By Jesse Mercer
MEN AND BRETHREN,
Having obtained help of God, we are now assembled, according to appointment, and for the time we have been together, have had much pleasure in meeting and enjoying each other's company, harmony in deliberation, and comfort in the prospect before us; though, at the same time, mingled with sorrow, for the desolations of zion: And therefore, beg leave to address you, in a few unvarnished remarks, on the importance of a more elevated standard of christian morality, among the churches and ministers of our denomination.
The standard of christian morals, in itself considered, is THE TRUTH, as it is in Jesus; and is incapable of either elevation or depression; but in our present design, it means the public estimation and practical regard, in which it is held; and will be higher or lower, according to the views, truth obtains in the denomination; and to which, the practice of the churches will conform, and will be elevated or depressed accordingly. Just as water seeks its own level, or as the conduct of a community accords to public opinion; so will christians['] morals be influenced by the standard of piety and Godliness, as held sacred among the churches. This will be strikingly illustrated by reference to the one only point, in which, we think, this standard is sufficiently raised among us, that is, it is universally agreed that immersion, and nothing but immersion is BAPTISM; and the practice is every where, in the denomination, one and the same -- there is no difference -- no dispute about it. Now if the standard was equally elevated in every other point of faith and duty, the churches would in all points, in the same practical unity and peace; and tending fast to perfectness. Just as rays of light converge, as they approach their centre, so we, in folllowing this standard, when duty elevated, shall approximate each other, as we approach THE TRUTH, as it is in Jesus; and loosing all asperities in assimilations to him, who is the truth itself, be swallowed up in light. But as rays of light, flying off from their source, diverge, as they fly, 'til they loose themselves in regions of unbroken darkness, so we, in pursuing a depressed standard of piety, must widen and separate -- become less and less ardent, in christian affections, and loosing all sense of vital union, merge into bitter animousities and destructive feuds, and, lost in ourselves, and to each other, be desembogued in the blackness of that darkness, which is reserved unto wandering stars forever. That the standard of christian morality is deplorably low, among the ministers and churches of our denomination, is too bovious to be concealed.
Beloved friends and brethen, to bring your minds to bear on this lamentable case, permit us to ask you a few plain questions.
Are there not many professors among us, whose spirit, life and conversation illy become the gospel of Christ -- worldly in their views, and mercenary in all they do, so, that if they were not seen in church meeting, or at the Lord's table, they could not be told from mere worldings? And yet, do they not go unreproved?
Are there not many, who, to the entire neglect of all family religion, seldom attend church meeting, and habitually live irreverently, if not immorally? And are they not suffered to go undisciplined?
And others there are, who, in the plainest sense, are drunkards.
And though no drunkard hath any place in the kingdom of God and of Christ; yet do they not by some means -- by feigned repentance, or empty and vain resolves, continue from youth to old age in the church, frequently, if not habitually, drunk? And are there not many such cases?
And more, is it not common, that mere negative goodness is all that is requisite to constitute a member in good standing, and to recommend him, as such, to a sister church? -- But does not the parable of the fig tree reprove this practice? since the tree was not threatened to be cut down for bearing evil fruit, but because it bore none!
And moreover, is there not evidently a want of union and concert among both ministers and churches of our denomination?
Have not instances occurred in which some churches have disciplined their members for what others have winked at, or even commended in theirs? And have not censured, and even excluded members of some, been received and nurtured by other churches?
And have not ministers gotten into heated and hurtful controversies with one another -- breathing towards each other the most crude asperities and cruel animousities? And is it not true, that one has preached what another, in, and to the same congregation, has contradicted and exposed, as unsound and dangerous; by which question, which gender strife, have abounded? And has not all this past [passed] off, without any effort to correct the evil, or to reconcile these inconsiderate brethren?
Does it not then brethren, behoove us to enquire,, for the causes of these afflcitions? And on close examination, will they not be found, mostly, if not altogether, in the following particulars?
1. In a want of carefulness in the admission of members.
By a cursory review of the new-testament churches, it will be readily seen, that they were all constituted of believers in Christ alone, such as were called to be saints -- all of one heart and one soul. That the first churches were patterns for all others, which should be built up. Hence the church in Thessalonica was commended, for becoming followers of those which were in Judea. That they kept a close guard at the door of admission, whose vigilance, the unworthy and designing had to escape and creep in unawares; but they soon found themselves, in so hot a bed, that they went out of their own accord. And such would have been the effect even till now, if the standard had been kept up equally high. -- But alas! even as [in] the apostles' days, the mystery of iniquity was at work; and the standard of Godly practice was soon lowered, so that men of corrupt minds and loose morals could live in the churches; and they were corrupted in their pristine simplicity, unity and beauty, they had in Christ, and became the subjects of severe rebukes, and were even threatened with extinction!
Now were not all these things written for our admonition, to the intent that we should be careful to admit into the churches of Christ, none but such as give good evidence of being one spirt with the Lord, and members in particular with his body? Lest we should incur the displeasure they incurred; and that too denounced against Israel, (probably the chuches in our day were in the prophet's eye,) Eze. 44, 6,7. Thus saith the Lord God; O ye house of Israel, let it suffice you of all your abominations; in that ye have brought into my sanctuary, stangers, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in my sanctuary, to pollute it, even my house, when ye offer my bread, the fat and the blood; and they have broken my covenant, because of all your abominations. And ye have not kept the charge of my holy things. This last complaint plainly shows,
2. The want of a close and goodly discipline.
Christ, as head of his church, has constituted the power to govern in the body, according to his laws, for edification, and not destruction; for the preservation of the churches in >i>purity, unity, and peace. But when discipline is neglected or loosely executed, the exact opposite state of things must ensue. Corrupt men, suffered or tolerated in the churches, will seek their own level, and like the old leaven, will corrrode and corrupt the whole body, and tend to more ungodliness; till, by their number and influence, the church, at this or that place, may become a mere worldly sanctuary, or a synagogue of Satan. These deleterious effects, it is believed, will be found to grow very much out of,
3. An inefficient ministry.
The gospel ministry, in all its grades, was given to, and constiuted in, the church, to bring all in unity of the faith, unto the stature of the fulness of Christ. But it must be obvious to any one, that such an end can never be accomplished by a weak, contentious and divided ministry. Say what we may of the church's power to govern, and even to govern her ministers; and yet, it will be true, that ministers give tone and impulse to the public feeling, direction and energy to public spirit, and power and efficienty to public effort. The corruptions and errors of Israel are charged on her prophets, who, refusing to speak the word of the Lord faithfully, saw vain visions of peace, and taught out of the imigination of their evil heart. And the divisions and offences, which rent, with fierce controversies, the churches at Antioch, Corinth, Galatia, Cappadocia, Bythinia, and Asia, are charged to those ministers, who preached doctrines, contrary to that taught by the Apostles. Against these, not only foreign, but also of their own selves, the churches were cautioned, warned, reproved and even threatened. And shall we be inattentive to these things? similar causes will produce similar effects. -- Therefore, as is the ministry, such will be the churches. If ministers are inefficient, the churches will be weak and wavering -- If ministers are in controversy among themselves, the churches will be in confusion -- If ministers break asunder, the churches will divide, and fall into party feuds. And are not these things so? Have we not, Brethren, reason to take the apostolic caution; if we bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another? Surely, in the plaintive strain of the weeping prophet, we should enquire: Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered? Let us examine prayerfully and practically, and see if the health of the churches cannot be found in,
1. A more careful regard to an elevated standard of faith and piety, in the experience and character of those, who are received to membership among us.
All bodies derive their qualities from the elements of which they are composed. No church, therefore, can be more righteous and holy, than the members individually are. Then if the church is the beauty of holiness, the members must be beautified with salvation. If the church is one body, each member must have one heart and one soul. If the church is the Lord our righteousness the members must all be one spirit with the Lord. And if the church is the light of the world, and the joy of the whole earth, each member must be light in the Lord, and glow with a sacred passion, to make him known to the ends of the earth.
When due care is had that the members of the churches are all righteous; and discipline is every where duly executed, in the right spirit, then the standard of holiness to the Lord will be elevated, and true godliness promoted, till a state of efficient, practical piety will exhibit the chruches, as a company of horses in Pharoah's chariots; and terrible as an army with banners. But to effectuate this, we believe, will require,
2. A more careful attention to the qualifications and faithfulness of those, who are preferred among us to the gospel ministry.
Nothing can be more certain than, if the churches are ever raised to be holiness unto the Lord, the ability and fidelity requisite must be saught [sic] for in the consititution of ministers. -- And wherever this is neglected the consequences must be most deleterious to the purity, unity and peace of the churches. Let none say "God will qualify his ministers -- he will give them matter and form." This, we fear, is the very spirit that ruined Israel; they cried peace, peace; when there was no peace! Some thing must be practically and efficiently done to remedy the evils among us. It is now generally conceded, that both miracle, and the inspiration of truth, ceased with the Apostles. If so, ministers now have no just dependence on inspiration, for what they preach; only as they are instructed to understand the truth, from the inspired scriptures. This shows the importance of education. And which seems to be the scripture plan. Those sent out by the Apostles, incurred blame, in that they taught what they were not commanded; proving plain enough, that they were authorized to preach nothing but what they were taught. -- Thus Paul instructed Timothy and Titus to preach and teach the things (not with which they were inspired, but those,) they had heard and learned of him; and to commit them to those men only, who were able and faithful to teach others also, as they had been taught. And Christ lays down the same rule in Mat. 13, 52. Every scribe instructed (not inspired) into the kingdom of heaven (or the gospel of Christ) is like unto a householder, who bringeth out of his treasures things new and old.
And surely, it is just as senseless, to send out a man to preach the gospel, which he had never been taught, with any expectation of his teaching it correctly; as it would be to employ a man to teach all the branches of a refined education, who had never studied their elementary principles. -- But it may be asked -- does not God so more for the one than for the other? Yes, blessed be his name! he does. -- He gives to the man, he calls into the ministry, his holy spirit, to impress and lead his mind to the work, to elevate and open his understanding in the study of the scriptures, to know and receive the truth, and aptness to impart it to others. And to secure faithfulness, in the discharge of the duties of this, highly responsible office, HE gives not only the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and of a sound mind. But that man might as well be expected to know and explain all the beauties of nature, whose eyes had never been opened on its volume; as for a minister to preach the truth as it is in Jesus, who neither knows, nor studies the scriptures. Nor can he else, preserve the ministry from blame by knowledge, or show himself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Besides, the results to be had by the gospel ministry, are such, as can never be attained, unless purity in knowledge, unity in design and purpose, and fidleity in practice be first found in the ministers. They must be taught all to speak the same things; they must become sensible to mutual obligations and the impotance of unity in effort. And when ministers, of every degree, shall be found in unity, all workers together with the Lord, all pulling at once, and the same way; none to selfish to receive help -- too proud to be taught -- too wise to learn -- too independent to submit -- nor too great to be least; but all studying to be prepared, to do the work of the Lord -- mediating diligently on the things, taught in his word -- and wholly giving themselves to them, that their profiting (not thier greatness) may appear to all. Then the standard of christian morality will be elevated, and the churches will all fall into regular ranks under its flying banners; and "onward" shall be heard from every camp of our Israel, till they all come, in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the son of God, unto a perfect man, UNTO THE MEASURE OF THE STATURE OF THE FULNESS OF CHRIST.
Pastors and Churches then,
All with united ken,
Wrap'd in seraphic flame,
God and the lamb to praise,
Shall shout, through endless days,
The long -- the loud amen.
JESSE MERCER, Moderator.
Adiel Sherwood, Clerk.
[From Georgia Baptist Association Minutes, 1831, pp. 14-19. From a photocopy from Mercer University Library. jrd]
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