To the Churches they represent; wishing Grace and Peace may be multiplied, through the Knowledge of GOD, and our Saviour Jesus CHRIST.
THE CIRCULAR LETTER, 1771
From the Elders and Messengers of the Baptist Churches of Midland Association,
It behoveth us to acknowledge, with unfeigned Gratitude of heart, the many Blessings which our Heavenly Father hath bestowed upon us, and by which we this day stand distinguished from most other People on the face of the earth. It is now almost an age since religious Liberty was first established in this Kingdom, and Dissenters from the national Church, not only exempted from the Penalties to which they were before liable, but secured in the public Exercise of their religion under the Sanctions of the Laws, and the Protection of the Civil Magistrate. Since this happy Period many unreasonable Prejudices have subsided, and the eyes of the People, in general, have been so far opened as to see the Reasonableness of that Security which we now enjoy. And of late, indeed, it has been almost universally acknowledged, that to persecute any Man for Conscience sake is equally cruel, impolitic, and unchristian. But it is to be feared, that, while we have thus gained in outward Liberty and Respect, we have lost much in the inward Power of primitive and genuine Piety, - Certain it is that we have not rendered to our GOD according to the Benefits bestowed upon us, nor made those Improvements that might have been expected. No: We may well be ashamed to compare the Temper of our Hearts, and the Conduct of our Lives with those who lived in times less favourable
to religious Liberty, and who sought, indeed, the Bread of their Souls, in the constant Peril of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Death. We have not improved our Privileges; but yet we should value them, and be thankful for them. It is no small Mercy, that we can sit under our Vines and Figtrees; that we can enjoy our public and solemn Assemblies, and there is none to interrupt us, or to make us afraid. Man was formed for Society, and cannot be happy without it. Solomon says, “As Iron sharpeneth Iron, so a Man sharpeneth the Countenance of his Friend.” But, of all others, religious Society and Intercourse is the most pleasant and delightful. Dear Brethren, we cannot but hope, that the Society we have now had together, in the things of God, has been not only pleasant, but profitable to our Souls; that GOD has been with us, and that it was good for us to be here. And, for the Love we have to your Souls, we would, if possible, transfuse into your Hearts something of what we have felt on this Occasion. Your Letters we read in the Assembly; and we should have been wanting to ourselves, and to you, not to have been affected with their several contents.
Many Complaints of Carnality, of Backsliding, of Coldness, of Indifference, of Deadness in the things of GOD, have been laid before us as usual; but whether those Complaints were made with that Compunction and Sorrow of Heart, which they require, we must leave to your own Consciences to determine. Be this as it will, we have too much reason to fear, that, in fact, these Complaints have not been at all exaggerated. No: There is all that Carnality, all that Earthly-mindedness, all that Indifferency, and Deadness in the things of GOD,
which you complain of, to be found amongst you. We therefore intreat you to enquire into the real Cause of these Complaints. You are not straitened in God, in his Word and Ordinances: No; you are straitened in yourselves; the Cause lies deep in your own Hearts; be sollicitous to find it out; beg of GOD not only to find it out and shew it to you, but to remove it by the powerful and enlivening Operations of his Holy Spirit. It is a sad thing to complain year after year, and yet never to be sollicitous, never to apply in good earnest to GOD and his Grace, to have your Complaints removed: This is Deceit, this is Hypocrisy with a witness: We hope therefore you will not dare to indulge it any longer. On the other hand, there are some things in the Letters before us of a different Complexion; some things which give us good hope, bad as it is, that GOD hath not yet wholly _____ you. Peace and Harmony have been in a good measure restored in some of the Churches, where it had been long and much wanted. The means of Grace, the Ordinances of GOD's House, as well attended as usual; and, notwithstanding the many awful Breaches that have been made of late, there is but one small Congregation within the compass of this Association destitute of a Minister. In most of the Churches there has been some addition of Members; and, on the whole, you will find the Increase nearly double the number Lost by Death; and, what is still more, with this Increase of number, there has been, we have reason to hope, some Revival at least of the Power and Life of Religion. These things, and others of the like nature, could not but rejoice our Hearts, and fill our Lips with the high praises
of our GOD in the solemn Assembly. And now what shall we say to you? we despair of offering anything new; nor need we be sollicitous about it. The grand Arguments we have to offer have been often urged; but yet their Importance is such, that they may still be urged with Advantage: And, if set home by the Spirit of GOD, we know they will be effectual to stir up your Souls and ours, to lead us into the true Spirit, and fix our Attention to the important Duties of our holy Religion. . . . We charge you therefore, by the Truths, the important and precious Truths of the everlasting gospel; by the Concern you ought to have for the Glory of GOD, and the good of your Souls; by the solemn and public Profession you have made of the Christian Religion; by the Love of GOD to a sinful World in the Gift of his Son; by the Incarnation, Obedience, Sufferings and Death of the LORD Jesus CHRIST; by the Hope you have of an Interest in Redemption by his Blood; by his triumphant Resurrection from the Dead; by his glorious, certain, and speedy Appearance to Judgment; by all the Miseries of Hell, and by all the Joys of Heaven; and by every other awful and tremendous Consideration that can be suggested to your Thoughts, we charge you, this day, to suffer the Word of Exhortation, and attend to the few plain, but important Admonitions we now give you.
Guard against Sin, all the Appearances of it, every thing that leads to it. Shun it as the most pestilential Evil, worse that the Plague to your Bodies, Death, Misery and Perdition to your Souls. - Cultivate real Holiness, the opposite of Sin; Desire and Endeavour to be like GOD: Put off the old Man with his Deeds yet more and more, and put on the new Man, which after GOD, is created in Righteousness and true Holiness; for this is Health, Life, and Happiness, and you can not see GOD without it. Attend to the Duties of Religion; keep up uninterrupted Communion and Intercourse with GOD in Reading his Word, in Meditation, in Prayer, in the Closet in the Family, and in the House of GOD. - Keep his holy Sabbaths; wait daily at the Posts of his Door; fill up your Places at all times in the solemn and public Assembly, and especially at the Table of your LORD. - Be not contented with the outward Appearance, with mere bodily Exercise, which profiteth little, but above all things desire to enter into the true Spirit of Religion. - Love GOD, love HIM first, put your whole Trust in him, and cleave to him with full purpose of Heart; and love one another for his sake. Let Charity, Love to GOD and to your Neighbour have its proper work; keep the Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace, and, as you would have the GOD of Love and the GO D of Peace to be with you, live in Love, in perfect Love and Peace with each other ____ion GOD every day of your Life, and live to him. - Let the Interest of Religion, the Glory of GOD, the Glory of CHRIST lie near your Hearts, and then you will do all you can to promote it.
Dear Brethren, we are assured it is not more your Duty than it is your Interest to attend these things; and had we any doubt of this, or had we less Love to your Souls, we might be less pressing and passionate in our Address to you on this Occasion. But you know, you profess to know, that a due Attention to Religion, and the true Spirit and Power of it on your Heart is the only thing that can make you happy: And we likewise hope, that you have so far a good Opinion of us, as to believe that we have no other View, in what we now say, than your real Good. Yes; We can truly say, that we can have no greater Pleasure, no greater Joy than to see you what you ought to be, lively, warm, growing, and exemplary Christians. “For what is our Hope, or joy, or Crown of Rejoicing?” “Are not even ye in the Presence of our LORD Jesus CHRIST at his coming. For ye are our Glory and joy! As such we once more “commend you to God, and to the Word of his Grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an Inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” And remain your affectionate Brethren, and Servants for Jesus' sake.
Signed, the 22d of May, in the Name of the Assembly, by the Moderator,
Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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