Summary of the Book’s Contents
I have read this book from the beginning to the end, and I can affirm that it is solely based on the life and theological perspectives of one of the most influential ministers and Baptists of ancient times in Georgia, Jesse Mercer. The book is divided into two major parts. The first part has three major chapters which explain Mercer’s life from his birth, marriage, how he started his ministerial work (Son of Silas), how he became a Baptist (Father Mercer), and the fruits of his pastoral work (The Old Man). According to Chute (p3), Mercer was born on 16th December 1969 in North Carolina as the firstborn son to a family of 8 children. Both his father Silas and grandfather (James) were ministers at the Church of England and are thus believed to have played a significant role in Mercer’s religious and moral outlook. However, later on in the 17th century, Silas Mercer shifted to the Anglican Church to assume the position of a Baptist, thereby influencing his son, Jesse, to follow in his footsteps.
The author reveals that Jesse Mercer was quite different from other children of his age in his early childhood years. Chute (p6) states, “he was different from other boys in his interests and athletic abilities, and those who played rough games hardly found a companion in him.” In other words, he detested sinful nature to the extent that he avoided any games that were characterized by the use of vulgar language and rough physical contact. This trait was only understood by his uncle, John Mercer. As his parents’ firstborn son, Jesse was very obedient, respectful, and entirely submissive to the instructions of his mother and father. He acted as a role model to his siblings by treating his mother with high esteem and respect even in his father’s absence. Jesse enjoyed spending most of his time doing outdoor activities like fishing, swimming, and hunting for turkeys in the woods as a teenager. His skills in swimming were so good that he utilized them one particular time to save his uncle from submerging in water. These outdoor skills played a very critical role later on in his ministry work.
In chapter 2 of the book, the author indicates that Jesse Mercer started following in his father’s footsteps at the age of 15 when he would accompany Silas to Georgia Baptist Association’s meetings, a group of churches united by a common goal of doing ministry work. When the Georgia Baptist Association was opposing the government’s involvement in church matters, including enacting laws and rules governing who should preach in church, Jesse played a critical role in influencing the adoption of a new constitution. As an author in the religious liberty section during a meeting to implement a new constitution in Georgia, Jesse expressed his belief that each individual should be accorded the right to worship God in a manner amiable to their conscience. Besides, he believed that no one should be forced to go to any place of worship contrary to their beliefs and judgment.
According to Chute (p15), Jesse’s contribution to the implementation of a new constitution in Georgia indicates that he had attained the title of a prominent person in the State of Georgia. After his baptism, Mercer began ministering the gospel to crowds of people and went for a preaching trip through the states of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina. In 1789, he assumed his first pastoral role at the Hutton’s fork Church in an ordination ceremony, with his father being one of the members of the council gracing the occasion (Chute 18). He later on enrolled in John Springer’s school to enhance his understanding of the Bible and how pastors should preach and serve God. After his father’s demise, as the eldest son in the family, Jesse assumed all the responsibilities he left behind, including his position in the Georgia Baptist Association and taking care of his mother and siblings.
In the first part of the book, the author also explains some of the ministerial works that Jesse Mercer performed precisely at a time when the practice of slavery had started to engulf Georgia’s political sphere. For instance, he worked as a clerk and a moderator in the Georgia Baptist Association that was founded by his father and served as a pastor in several churches, including those led by the late Silas. More so, he wrote circular letters for the Georgia Baptist Association on an annual basis to remind the members of the Baptist family the type of Christian virtues they should uphold and the vices they should refrain from at all costs. The author reveals that Jesse’s circular letters mainly comprised topics on the trials and tribulations that Christians at that time were experiencing at that time, such as division amongst themselves. According to Chute (26), promoting unity among Christians was a significant theme in Jesse Mercer’s letters. In addition, Mercer became an author who made a collection of sacred poems, Christian songs, and divine hymns, which became a huge success in the market. The author emphasizes that Jesse was dedicated to ministering the gospel of God despite the obstacles he encountered along the way and that he would occasionally travel long distances to preach.
In part 2 of the book, Antony Chute explains Mercer’s religious writings, including letters, handwritten prayer, sermons, and letters to church members. In this part, the author starts by briefly introducing the specific type of writing in terms of to whom it was addressed and the date it was written, and then explains its significance. For instance, Mercer’s letter dated 22nd June 1883 was addressed to his close friend and church member, who was experiencing a period of immense grief and sadness after her husband’s demise. According to Chute (p91), Mercer wrote this letter out of his pastoral concern to console her and inform her that he had gone through the same situation after the loss of his wife Sabrina and that God had abounded him with immense grace to overcome such sorrow and grieve. In a letter addressed to J. Lewis Shuck dated 12th April 1838, Chute (98) reveals that Mercer wrote to his fellow missionary to express his immense love for missionary work and his faith that more believers would join this movement after hearing and learning about the gospel of God from missionaries across the world. At the end of the book, the author provides a detailed timeline of Jesse Mercer’s life and a two-page summary of the literature on Mercer’s writings for readers who may be interested in examining him more comprehensively.
A Critical Review of the Book
In my opinion, the author of this book, Antony Chute, was objective because he evaluated how Baptists should conduct themselves based on the life of Jesse Mercer, his ministerial journey, the challenges he encountered on the way, and his response to the same. Besides, the author is not biased in any way because he addressed the concerns of people who might differ from Mercer’s perspective. For instance, Chute (p18) reveals that the Presbyterians did not believe in baptizing infants, unlike Baptists. Also, Chute (p6) shows contrasting perspectives between the Presbyterians and Baptists in that the former were allowed to perform ministerial work upon receiving a calling from God and had the desire to do the same while the latter had to enroll in college first before being allowed to minister or preach the gospel.
My impression of Jesse Mercer is that of a staunch Baptist in that the opinions of others did not sway him. He respected other people’s perspectives who differed in his interpretation and understanding of the gospel and serving God. Besides, he stood for what he believed in and expressed it to his opponents without fear of contradiction. For instance, when he was appointed the role of an author in the religious liberty section during a meeting to implement a new constitution in the state of Georgia, Jesse expressed his belief in that each individual should be accorded the right to worship God in a manner amiable to their conscience (Chute 15). In my opinion, the areas of Mercer’s life and ministry that are worth emulating are his participation and enthusiasm in missionary work, his zeal to minister the gospel of God and serve, to write sermons, Christian hymns, and poems, and being confident and brave enough to defend his faith.
This book has impacted my theology in several ways. First, it has taught me to stand firm in my faith in the gospel of Christ and defend my faith amidst all obstacles. Also, it has deepened my understanding of my role as a minister of the gospel by encouraging me to be faithful in small things such as preaching the gospel to others, doing missionary work, educating other people on the word of God, upholding Christian moral virtues and refraining from all the vices so that over time, God may abound his grace upon me. I can share what I have learned from this book with people in my church through bible study discussions, prayer meetings, writing them encouragement letters, and composing songs and poems.
Chute, Antony. Father Mercer: The Story of a Baptist Statesman. Mercer University Press. (2011): 3-144.