The Association of elders and brethren of the several Baptist churches in Pennsylvania, and the colonies adjacent, held at Philadelphia, October 10th, 11th, and 12th, 1775.
To the several churches we are in connection with, send our Christian salutation.
Beloved Brethren, - In the primitive times, when people were converted by the ministry of the gospel, and united together in church relation and fellowship, it was the practice of the Apostles to establish them in the truths which they had believed and professed, Acts xv. 41, for their edification and comfort, Acts ix. 31. We now, according to our measure, would endeavor to follow this worthy pattern, for the like excellent design. The subject, which next in order comes to be considered, is the doctrine of God's decree. Confession of faith, chap. III. Whereon we observe,
1. That God, the supreme, who is self-existent, and every way an independent sovereign, the creator of all things, hath an absolute right to dispose of all his creatures; and before his works of old, to appoint and determine all things to a certain end. This article of our belief, both scripture and reason do jointly and sufficiently confirm, Isaiah xlvi. 10; Psalm xxxiii. 11; Proverbs xix. 21.
2. The rule of his fore-appointment, of what shall come to pass in time, is the wise counsel of his most holy will and pleasure. Ephesians i. 11.
3. In accomplishing his purpose, no violence is offered to the will of the creature, good, Psalm cx. 3; or bad, James i. 13, 14; nor the use of means taken away, Ezekiel xxxvi. 37; neither is God, in anywise, the author of sin, though he decreed to permit it to be, Acts xiv. 16; Genesis xlv. 5; Acts ii. 23.
4. The special objects of God's decree are angels and men.
5. When all the human race, by the sin of the first man, were involved in guilt, Romans v. 12, and fallen under condemnation, and all become the children of wrath; it would manifestly be doing them no injustice, if they were, to every individual, left in that state, and eternally punished for their sins: this would have been their proper desert, their just reward. But God, out of his mere free grace and love, without any moving cause in the parties chosen, hath predestinated some unto life, through a Mediator, Ephesians i. 4; Romans xi. 5, 6, (without any wrong done to others) together with all the means subservient to this end, viz., their redemption by the blood of Christ, and renovation by the Spirit of holiness, to the praise of his glorious grace; the other left to act in sin, to their final destruction, to the glory of divine justice, Romans ix. 22, 23.
The bounds of a letter will not permit us to enter on the discussion of the several objections, and remove out of the way the many cavils, which are raised by men of different principles, in opposition to this scripture doctrine; that has been repeatedly well done heretofore by others; but only add a word, with a view to relieve and support those distressed souls, whoever and wherever they be, whilst they acknowledge this awful truth, but at the same time are greatly exercised about it; frequently raising objections against themselves, fearing they are not of the elect of God: and, should this be the case, they infer, that all their endeavors must be in vain, their acts of worship unacceptable. The consolations and promises of the gospel are proposed to them to little purpose. Their souls refuse to be comforted; their hope flags, their expectation fails; they are greatly disheartened; yea, the very duties of religion become to them difficult, and oftentimes burthensome; briefly, they are ready to halt, and to sink down in the gulf of despair, believing the decree of God to be immutable. So that this solemn truth, instead of administering joy to their souls, and exciting in them adoration and praise to God, becomes to them an occasion of terror, discouragement, and great depression of spirit. The topics, whence they generally derive these gloomy apprehensions are such as follow, viz., the gross darkness of mind under which they are shut up; no signs of election; extreme ignorance of God and of Christ; find no returns of prayer; so full of sin; manifold afflictions; cannot act faith; backslidings, unprofitableness, heart rising against God, and such like.
To remove these difficulties:
1. Let the parties consider that there may be very great and just reasons for the ground of these complaints, without calling in question their election.
2. Let them seriously observe the frame and temper of their soul under all or any of these defects, whether a sense of their case excites in them more humiliation and sorrow for sin, Psalm xxxviii. 17, 18; and more vehement cries and ardent wishes for seasonable help, Psalm xxxviii. 4, 5, 21, 22. If so, the evidence is in their favor.
3. Let such know and learn, that the way for their relief is not by laboring to pry into the secret purpose of God, or in their thoughts to dwell upon it, to their own discouragement, but abide by, and cleave to, his revealed will, which directs all indigent ones to Christ the Mediator for supply, and to the use of those means prescribed for the satisfaction and peace of laboring souls: "Make your calling sure." 2 Peter i.10. In so doing shall the fearful be able to look back, and know their election before time, and forward, and view their salvation to come, when time shall be no more. This glorious truth is not designed to deter troubled souls from coming to Jesus Christ.
4. It directly tends to administer support to the laboring soul, when we find those very springs of complaints, doubts, and fears, from which they argue to their disadvantage, are no other than what the Scripture declares to have been the case with the very elect of God; for instance, these complain of darkness, so did they, "Why hidest thou thyself?" Psalm x. 1. Job emphatically, xxiii. 8, 9. See Isaiah i. 10. Do these sorrowful ones lack tokens of their election? But hath not God in special mercy hedged up their way, to keep them from sin, and made it bitter to their souls? Hosea ii. 6; Lamentations iii. 19, 20. Do they not find thirstings after Christ? Psalm xlii. 1-3. Do they not groan earnestly; and are burdened, because of their depravity, &c.? 2 Corinthians v. 2. These are encouraging tokens, the very characters of the elect; who also in their day bewailed their ignorance of God. Proverbs xxx. 2, 3. The exhortation "to grow in the knowledge of Christ," intimates their deficiency therein. How pathetically did they expostulate with God about his deferring to answer their prayers. "Will the Lord cast off forever?" Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Psalm lxxvii. 7-3. "O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear?" Habakkuk i. 2. How feelingly did they acknowledge themselves full of sin; "Mine iniquities are gone over my head." Psalm xxxviii. 3-8. "Wretched man that I am." Romans vii. 18, 24. Do these fear because they cannot put forth acts of faith? Consider the case of the godly; "I am shut up, and I cannot come forth." Psaln lxxxviii. 8. Christ would have men to know their own insufficiency, John xv. 5; vi. 44; who himself is the author and finisher of faith. Hence, Song i. 4, "draw me." Sore afflictions are the very portion of the dear chosen ones of God in the world. Psalm lxxiii. 10, 14; xxxiv.19; 1 Corinthians xi. 32; Hebrews xii. 6-8. Let these languishing souls hear the gracious word of promise to backsliders, Hosea xiv. 4. Christ teaches all the elect to esteem themselves unprofitable. Luke xvii. 10. Do these perplexed ones faint, because they find in themselves heart-risings against God? This indeed is very alarming and dreadful in its consequences; but there is on record an instance of this sad case, in one that was undoubtedly a chosen vessel, an elect of God. Jonah iv. 3, 4, 9, whose heart not only rose up against God, but also in his reply vindicated himself therein. "I do well to be angry." 'Tis probable this by far is an higher degree than any of these dejected ones are got to. Hence we observe, that not one distressed soul hath ground to argue against himself from any of the above-mentioned cases, or the like, that he is passed by, and, without hope, left to perish in his sins. None can conclude his preterition but from final impenitence, and the sin against the Holy Ghost. From the former he cannot, because he is yet in life; nor from the latter, because final impenitence is an inseparable ingredient of that sin.
5. Guard against every device of Satan, who aims to prevent people profiting by the gospel of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter v. 8.
6. Inasmuch as we are authorized to encourage the weak, the feeble, and fearful to be strong. Isaiah xxxv. 3, 4. We therefore exhort and charge all those into whose hands this may come, who are, and have been, sorely afflicted on the aforesaid account, that they would press forward in the ways of godliness, seek the Lord Jesus unfeignedly, pray without ceasing, and faint not, Luke xviii. 1, 7, endeavor for satisfactory experience of grace in their own souls; that hereafter they may rejoice in this, and every other truth of God.
Lastly, We would earnestly caution all persons, on the other hand, who confidently conclude themselves to be of the elect of God, to beware at all times of living a dissolute, vain, irreligious life, or giving themselves liberty to continue in sin, because ejection is unalterable; pleading or thinking they shall be saved, let them live and act as they will (this truth hath been thus horribly abused.) Such corrupt principles, wicked practices, and black characters, are inconsistent with the pure doctrines of the gospel. Remember that holiness becometh the house and people of the Lord forever, and is indispensably enjoined on everyone that nameth the name of Christ. 2 Timothy ii. 19; 2 Thessalonians ii.13; 1 Peter i. 14, 16.
Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory, with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever, Amen.
JOHN GANO, Moderator.
WIILLAM ROGERS, Clerk.
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