Editor's note: Willis Graves was the Clerk of his church and of the Association. This Circular Letter shows the doctrinal understanding of some of the members of the churches at that time. The Letter does not have an official title, but there is no doubt of the subject on which he writes.
The Sovereignty of God in Salvation
Northbend Baptist Association
CIRCULAR LETTER, 1832
Written by Willis Graves
Bullittsburg Baptist Church
FROM THE NORTH BEND ASSOCIATION TO THE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCHES COMPOSING IT.
Dearly Beloved Brethren:
We have been enabled by the kind indulgence of our HEAVENLY FATHER to assemble at this our 30th annual meeting as an association, and as upon every former occasion, thus far conduct our business with harmony and brotherly love. However favoured our association may have hitherto been with peace and union, yet by taking a retrospective view we find great changes in other respects. Of the nine churches, and twenty nine delegates engaged in its constitution, there are but three of the churches, and one, only one of the delegates now in our body, the remaining six churches still exist, but are in other associations; as to the delegates the greater part of them have been removed from time, and called home to test and experience the truth and reality of the religion professed by them and us; a fate that must shortly be ours likewise, and one that will be to us the greatest possible crisis, as then the great question of being or not being a christian will be decided, a question which constitutes a subject of more importance and vital interest to the human family, than all other subjects combined and even if all other subjects were combined, they would not bear a comparison with it. But as we all are professedly christian, we should carefully observe and continually bear in mind the high profession and responsible station, and to know and recollect that to be a christian is to be nothing else, not to belong to the world, to ourselves, or any other but Jesus Christ our Lord. We are His by creation, preservation, purchase and redemption; our lives, hope, and salvation are all in Him — "There is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved." He is therefore with us our all — and in addition to this we have or should have given ourselves to Him — yea, wholly to Him. He also has a right to all we claim as ours, all are His. Its only left with us for a while as it were in trust, and we should so use it. We cannot conceive of any description of right whatever that is more equitable, complete and absolute than His right is to and over us. He can justly give or withhold from us at His pleasure. It is His province to will and command; it is our duty to strive to learn His will concerning us, and to submit and obey in all things without murmuring; all the rights are His — all the duties are ours, the performance of which are incumbent upon us; but not to give or confer any right or rights — all the rights we have are earthly and among men and one another. We have no right to Heaven or the things of Heaven, only as given in Christ Jesus, they belong to God, and are at His gracious disposal — to give or not as He pleases. His rights and acts are not to be called in question. He is under no obligation whatever to us. It was an entire condescension upon His part to have done what He has already done, or to do what he may yet do for us. It was His love, and pity for man in his fallen condition and dreadful dilemma that caused Him to devise the plan, and make the sacrifice in the person of the LORD JESUS CHRIST. There was no necessity or priority for it on His account. It was for us, and on our account. This great condescension and sacrifice is unparallelled [sic], and almost too great for our conception. How enormous the guilt, and awful our situation to have required such a sacrifice, and after all to reject it, or to obtain its benefits. How sad the consequence — we should all be very careful to put a proper estimate upon the character of our LORD JESUS CHRIST, and upon the great services rendered by Him, that we might be saved — and we should also be cautious not to set up our own works, the works of men, or the performance of duties, as rights, as merit, or as the cause of salvation. At best we are but unworthy and unprofitable servants, and nothing short of the grace of God can or will save us, which grace is freely given by Him, without money or price, and we must feel our great need of it; and gladly receive it as a precious gift graciously bestowed, or it is not grace, the performance of christian duties and good works form no part of the procuring cause why grace is given. They are the effects and fruits of grace, and evidences of it without which we have no assurance of the possession of grace; the tree is known by its fruit — men may however for a while to all human appearance perform christian duties, and do good works, without having this divine and abiding grace in their hearts, they may be deceived in themselves and deceive others, but the defect is always with and in themselves. They rely too much upon self, and do not sufficiently trust and confide in Him in whom there is permanency and safety and by WHOM not only the actions but the secrets of all hearts are perfectly known, and who cannot be deceived. It is grace that begins, carries on and accomplishes the work of salvation. The conversion of the soul is a divine work, and nothing less than the divine power can effect it to salvation. Any seeming conversion that may have been brought about by powers less than divine, will not stand; it will fall short of a saving conversion, and all souls thus deceived will fall sooner or later. And this we conceive to be the falling from grace. Our own grace, or graces, will not do, and until we surrender and entirely give up all self power and self dependence, and feel to know that we are as nothing before God, we are not right with Him. It is HIM that "worketh in us both to will and to do of His own good pleasure." The preparation of the heart and the answer of the tongue are from Him. We naturally have so great a prepossession for self, and self is so imperceptibly entwined in our affections, that unless well guarded it will insinuate itself even in our religious concerns, and as far as it goes, it produces defects. What are all human powers, capacities, or performances; are they such when rightly considered, as should be relied upon or even partly relied upon, for salvation. Surely not. For cursed is he who trusteth in the arm of flesh. Then unto whom shall we look, or in whom shall we trust, but the Lord. Our whole trust should be in Him, for He alone is able and sufficient to save us, or worthy to be relied upon. He may give credit for the performance of christian duties or good works, as he pleases, but we have no right to claim a credit nor should we presume to do it. Suppose He had not seen proper to have made the provision and sacrifice for man's redemption — would man have had any right, or pretension of right, to have required it; and as He made the provision without any agency of man, or without consulting man, He will also use those provisions, and exercise His prerogatives at His pleasure. What kind of a counsellor [sic] would man have been to God in the arrangement; or what kind of a place would Heaven be, if it was made after the order or counsel of men, or so as to suit their notions.
Men who are vainly tenacious and conceited in their supposed superior powers and capacities, always have, and ever will contend, for a reliance either entire or in part upon human efforts, for salvation. It is too humiliating for such to give up self power, even to Him Who hath all power in Heaven or on earth. Human nature is so averse to any thing like yielding its conceived powers that nothing short of divine influences can effectually subdue it. Barely to give our assent, and conform to any particular religious ordinances, or peculiar notion will not do. There must be a death to sin, or an entire resignation to the love of sin, and a resurrection or newness of life to the love of holiness, a cordial acquiescence in, and a willing subjection to the will, power, and sovereignty of God.
Man with all his boasted powers, possesses no part of a single qualification to save. His propensities and qualifications are all entirely to the reverse — it is God alone who is in the full possession of every possible attribute, power, and qualification necessary to save. It is solely by His interposition that any soul ever was or will be saved. Why should men even presume to desire the possession of any saving power or qualification, much less to try to exercise as though they actually possessed them. Whatever success may for a while appear among men to attend those who rely upon and contend for the power of human efforts to save; or however precious, dear, or essential human performances may now appear to any, they will not stand in the great day of accounts; nothing but the work of ALMIGHTY POWER will stand the test before Him Who is to judge in that day. We however believe that God has devised means by which He worketh in and among the children of disobedience. His Gospel and its heralds when attended by His HOLY SPIRIT are effectual instruments in awakening and in warning sinners to flee from the wrath to come.
Notwithstanding all this our christian duties, responsibilities, and obligations to God are not lessened, but on the contrary are increased. We feel them to be increased even far above the obligation and responsibility of those who rely or pretend to rely in any manner, upon their own power, good works, or performances -- because we believe the favour, great as it is, entirely and graciously conferred as a gift without any merit or ability upon our part to return any consideration whatever, consequently our obligation, responsibility, gratitude, reverence, obedience, and love to God is and should be greater than if we were to obtain the favour, or even supposed we could obtain the favour, or any part of it by our own efforts or work — or were able to return any consideration therefor. May you all be enabled to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called; and live, and die, in the true faith, and be saved with the salvation of CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD, to Whom be the praise, evermore.
ROB'T KIRTLEY, Mod'r. Attest — WILLIS GRAVES, Cl'k.
[From microfilm records at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Library, Louisville, KY. Northbend is now known as the Northern Kentucky Baptist Association. — jrd]
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