Baptist associations North and South meet throughout the month of September. One of these Baptist groups is the Laughery Baptist Association of Indiana, bordering the Ohio River. On behalf of the Laughery Assocation, Elder E. P. Bond, perhaps at the time best known among Indiana Baptists for his advocacy of education for women, is selected to write a circular letter for distribution to member congregations.
Bond’s letter to the churches touches upon several broad religious themes of the mid-19th century: the millennial hope that many placed in the advance of American democracy and freedom, a hope now imperiled by the war; and the emergence and success of strange religious sects (such as Mormonism). He also is prescient in warning that the present troubles imperil the Baptist heritage of religious liberty, “Bible truth and soul liberty.” And Bond fuses the historical Baptist commitment to civil and religious liberties, interjecting language that is cutting edge for his day, in his insistence that, “Those that care nothing for human rights, care little for the souls of men.”
Entitled “Discern the Times,” Bond’s Circular Letter reads in whole:
BRETHREN: — In conformity to an established. usage, and with fraternal regard, we address you this circular letter.
The Apostle Paul in addressing Timothy, says: “This know, also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” This has been applicable to periods and nations as well as to the last days of the present dispensation, closing up with the millennium or the end of time. Brethren, are you sufficiently awake to discern the times? Perceive ye that these are perilous times? They are perilous to business and property. They are perilous to social order, to civil and political liberty — to liberty regulated by wholesome law, or to constitutional freedom. The elective franchise, the ballot, the voice of the people, has in a great measure ceased to be respected. “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The great American Temple of Freedom topples, and the bird of heaven shrieks at its pinnacle to take its departure. The sun of empire wanes; in cold, chaotic darkness, men shiver — their hearts failing them for fear of those things that are coming upon the earth. Life is imperilled [sic]. The throne of iniquity, which hath no fellowship with God, frameth mischief by a law.
But, dear brethren, it is not so much to these temporal calamities that we call your attention, as to those of a higher nature, and of more enduring consequences. If all the above named interests of humanity are endangered, religious liberty will hardly escape the general wreck. Those that care nothing for human rights, care little for the souls of men. Religious truth is obstructed either by corrupt anarchy or by its sequel, grinding despotism. Baptists, in past time, have waded through rivers of blood, or they have poured it out like water to quench the fires of persecution because of their attachment to Bible truth and soul liberty. Are we again to be called to the same bloody baptism? With such a prospect, nothing gives us more sincere regret than to see a part of our brethren in one portion of our country, apparently justifying a treasonable despotism.
In such times as these, the spiritual, life-giving, and regulating truths of the Gospel are covered up with man’s inventions, or drugged with human passions. Many depart from the truth, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. The worst deeds are performed with professed reverence for God, and in the name of Religion.
How perilous such a state of things to the spirituality of the Church and to the souls of men! How necessary that we seek for the old paths, and for Divine aid, that we may walk in the truth and cultivate the meek, loving, and self-denying spirit of Christ; that we watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation. God is chastizing [sic] us for our sins and abuse of our privileges. Shall we not humble ourselves under His mighty hand — repent and turn to Him with all the heart? Shall we not plead for His spirit and for the joy of His salvation, that we may teach transgressors His ways, and that sinners may be converted unto Him? Are we, as we should be, lights in the world — living exponents of His word and spirit? Think, brethren, of the peril to our Missionary cause — how we forget and leave unsustained the hands of those in heathen lands, sent forward in the advance of the great army of Jesus. Is not God touching our property because we used it not in His cause? Think, also, of the perils of our home and domestic missions; who will care for the lambs and scattered sheep in the dark and cloudy day! But we come nearer home: what are we to do for the refreshing Word in our Churches? Times are hard, and men’s thoughts are selfishly turned to their own pecuniary gains — what are our ministers to do? Are they to be driven from their pulpits? Shall we have a famine of the word of God? Must the darkness be increased and sin more and more abound? And if judgment is upon us for neglect of duty, shall that judgment be accumulated to overwhelming torrents? Brethren, these are perilous times! Pray, brethren, pray that God in wrath may remember mercy! Let us cease to rob Him. Let us bring all our tithes into the store-house. We are His; He bought us with His blood. Where shall we turn for refuge amid these perils? — to God — to God; He is a very present help in time of trouble, His word abideth forever. His gracious promises in Christ are yea and amen. Hope may enter an anchor within the vail where Jesus is — Jesus the sinner’s friend — Jesus in our future home. Look to Jesus.
Note: Special thanks to Jim Duvall, author of the Baptist History Homepage, for the text of the Circular Letter.
Sources: Laughery Baptist Association Minutes, 1861, pp. 13-15 (link): E. P. Bond and women’s education (link); 1861 Indiana Civil War recruiting poster illustration (link)