Editor's note: This is the first circular written by James A. Kirtley and deals with the three issues of universalism, hyper-Calvinism and Campbellism that were prevalent in northern Kentucky at that time. — Jim Duvall
Northbend Association of Baptists
CIRCULAR LETTER 1846
Written by James A. Kirtley
Bullittsburg Baptist Church
Cherishing feelings of sincere gratitude to our heavenly father for the blessing and mercies of the past year, we welcome our returning Anniversary; and now very fraternally address to you, this, our annual letter. The subjects ordinarily chosen for this purpose, have been well calculated to incite you to peace, union, and brotherly love; the last three, however, have been more particularly adapted, to stir up your pure minds by way of watchfulness and improvement, as well as by remembrance of past blessings and prosperity. At the present we could not more appropriately address you, than by endeavoring to guard you against error, and to prompt you to steadfastness and a faithful defence of the truth. "What is truth?' was a question propounded. The answer is readily supplied, "Thy word is truth." But error is the perversion of truth, and in this perversion it assumes different forms; hence the various systems of error. They are numerous, arrogant in their assumptions, fanatical in their extremes, and corrupt in their influence. Their blind votaries inflated with ignorant zeal and self-complacent bigotry, denouncing all who wisely and religiously differ, attribute to themselves the standard of primitive truth, and the pristine purity of the church. Ultraism is their prominent feature, they overleap the bounds of truth, and run in to dangerous extremes. Their tendency, moreover, is that of discord and corruption; an unholy influence is poured forth, like turbid waters from a foul fountain. But christianity which the word of truth reveals is not only pure and elevated in doctrine, but lovely in practice and holy in example. It is humble, peaceful, savory, enlightening, giving God the glory, and seeking the salvation of immortal souls. With such as our scriptural landmarks, we can but regard that system erroneous which burdens all things pertaining to the christian character and practice with irreconcilable decrees. Which deals more in eternal purposes than present evidences, or future realizations. — Which has for its principle and central tenet, that the present and ultimate state of man, 'ere he had a being, was eternally fixed by an immovable decree. Associated with this, is the wanton rejection of the divine command of Jesus, to preach the Gospel to every creature. The evident tendency of such, is, to stifle the vital principles of christianity, while it virtually justifies the unhallowed practices, of worldly minded professors. Morbidness and insensibility are legitimate consequences, and all activity and energy is prostrated, save that carnal propensity, which tends to strifes, animosities, and dissensions. The inconsiderate advocates of such a system, "are wise to do evil, but to do good, they have no knowledge." — Jer. 4.22.
Nor do we esteem that system less dangerous, or less subversive of truth, which declares salvation to be the result of a series of works, or a course of external obedience. That remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and eternal life, are the purchase of the sinner's obedience, in believing, reforming, and being baptised. A system whose zealous advocates promiscuously receive and reject the divinity of the Saviour, and not only deny the work of the spirit in quickening and renewing the heart, but unquestionably make the baptismal fount, the laver of regeneration. The novelty and variableness of such a system is its own condemnation. But a few years since, it sprang up in the fruitful and chimerical imagination of a self-esteemed, and party styled Luther of the nineteenth century. Its origin was begun with fearful paroxysms; its watch-word had been, down with all creeds, church forms, and orders; its progress has been marked by a copious ingathering of nominal professors, self-called, and self-appointed bishops; and now after the lapse of a quarter of a century it presents a lamentable multiplicity of crude notions, absurdly mingled together: in the language of its federal head "every sort of doctrine by almost all sorts of preachers, under the broad banners and with the supposed sanction of the begun reformation!!!"
But, perhaps, the most dangerous heresy with which we have to do, is that which modern infidels have received from the doctrine originally taught by the serpent in the garden, whose captious theme was, "that shalt not surely die." Denying to their father the originality of the doctrine, they presume upon the Gospel of the Saviour; but harrowing up the dregs of old heresies, and clothing them with the semblance of christianity, proclaim their perverse system under the bland title of universal salvation. The fundamental and essential doctrines of christianity are wholly perverted, and especially is the divinity of the Saviour most shamefully slandered, vilified, and blasphemously rejected. Such are men of "itching ears," of smooth words, and wily forms, who, indeed, evince much of the cunning and chicancery of the serpent, but are woefully deficient in the harmlessness of the dove. Serpentine-like, they insinuate themselves into every community; and when they can succeed in breaking down the restraints of conscience and common sense, infuse their poisonous system into the minds of the unwary, and youth; which at once gives verdant growth to immorality, and becomes the seated germs of infidelity. We must beware brethren, of the intrusion of such wolves who secretly prowl in sheep[']s clothing. At this crisis, it behooves us to maintain and defend the faith which was once delivered to the saints. All the sacred relationships of religion, in connexion with the express commands of God, urge us to gird ourselves for the propagation and defence of the truth.
The arms of our defence, must be spiritual and not carnal; not the low resorts of scurrility, abuse and intrigue, but the high moral dignity of truth, the sword of the spirit must bear the palm of victory. Are we insensible to the innovations and advances of error? already, many from the outskirts of Zion have slided off into the mazes of sin and heresy: many credulous minds have been poisoned by the sophistry of vain and designing pretenders. And do we not see in this, reasons for abounding in the work of the Lord? Surely we have not drank so deeply of the sleep giving spirit of Hyper-Calvinism that we should oppose all efforts to advance the interests of the Redeemer[']s Kingdom. Let us not, dear brethren, deceive ourselves, we "must work while it is day, the night cometh, when no man can work." We must not sleep at our posts, supinely folding our arms and longing for the halcyon days of our fathers. — The time was, in the early stages of this association, when this was wholly a Baptist community, and when nothing was known among us but union, brotherly love, and the plain simplicity of the gospel. Need we say that the introduction of error, in connexion with sloth and indifference upon our part, have largely contributed to mar this lovely state of things? [I]t is but too evident that "while men slept the enemy hath sowed tares," and through our unfaithfulness, error and unconsciousness have quickened apace. The only effectual way, therefore, by which we may counteract the progress of error, and stay its effusions of vice and immorality, is by a faithful exhibition of the truths of the gospel, accompanied with more ardent piety, and more diligent efforts to increase general information, and inculcate a spirit of inquiry and investigation. Listen not, therefore, to the whispers of that siren which speaks peace in the ear: there is not a more delusive voice. Neither let us stand waiting for a more favorable impulse, but with all diligence, let us purge out the old leaven of sloth and inactivity, and as the zealous advocates of truth, while we remain steadfast and unmovable in its doctrines, let us boldly present its claims, and enforce its heavenly precepts. then shall joy, and peace, fill our cup of blessing, and triumph crown our labors. May the grace of our God be with you all. — Amen.
[From Northbend Baptist Association Minutes, 1846. The grammar and spelling are unchanged except where [ ] are used. — Jim Duvall]
Kentucky Circular Letters
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