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      Editor's note: The Minutes state "on Wednesday: at four we met to examine the contents of the circular letter, the design of which was approved - some alterations for the better were made, and it was agreed that the letter should be printed." - Jim Duvall

THE BEAUTY of SOCIAL RELIGION,
OR, THE NATURE and GLORY of a GOSPEL CHURCH,
Represented in a Circular Letter
[Northamptonshire Baptist Association]
From the Baptist Ministers and Messengers,
Assembled at Oakham in Rutlandshire
By John C. Ryland *

MAY 20, 21, 1777:


     Maintaining the important Doctrines of Three Persons in the Godhead, Eternal and Personal Election; Original Sin; Particular redemption; Free Justification by the imputed Righteousness of Christ; Efficacious Grace in Regeneration; The Final Perseverance of the Saints; and the independency, or Congregational; Order of the Churches of Christ inviolably.

     To the several Churches they represent, or have received Letters from, meeting at Sutton-Ashfield, Nottingham, Sheepshead, Leicester, Sutton-in-the-Elms, Foxton, Oakham; Spalding, Soham, Kettering, Walgrave, Northampton, Road, Olney, Carleton and St. Alban's; as also to the many Churches not yet in this Association, who, notwithstanding, countenance it, by the Attendance of their Ministers and Members. -

     Grace be to you and Peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Dear Brethren in the Lord!
     THROUGH the kind and watchful providence of our Lord Jesus Christ, the ministers and messengers who attended this association were preserved from all afflictive incidents, and brought safely to an affectionate and peaceful interview with each other; but the absence of several by reason of personal or relative afflictions, was a matter of deep concern to us; and we trust those dear friends had not only a deep share in our sympathetic feelings, but in our prayers; it will be matter of great joy to meet them in health at our next association.

     After prayers offered up to our gracious God by some of the messengers of the churches, we proceeded to examine into the contents of the several letters sent from the churches we represent, - and we found, to our comfort, that none of our ministers or societies have gone off from the glorious principles we profess; nor are there any visible contentions among us: but the number of fourteen persons, excluded for immoralities, give us reason for painful reflection and sorrow: yet, at the same time, we rejoice to find such firmness and zea1 for purity and order, which have not suffered scandalous persons to abide in your societies. The number of twenty-nine that are dead should alarm us that remain: let us not flatter ourselves with the hopes of a long1ife, 1et us be ardently concerned to fill up the short space of time left us with solid godliness and real usefulness in our respective stations.

     In our annual letters, for many years past, we have stated, explained, defended, and improved the glorious principles we profess at the head of our letter, to the end that you might form an easy and familiar acquaintance with your own doctrines, and adorn them by an holy life and a beautiful conversation. You have already had views of the doctrine of the sacred Trinity - the gracious assistances of the Holy Spirit in a course of gospel obedience - the eternal, immutable, and free love of God in choosing you to holiness and eternal happiness - the fall and ruin of mankind, as involved in the guilt and corruption of the first head and root of the human race - special, absolute, certain, and perfect redemption by the death of Christ - free justification, by the righteousness of Christ, placed to our account by an act of God, as a father and a judge - invincible and victorious grace in regeneration and sanctification - and the final perseverance of the saints to glory. We hope those essays will never be forgotten, but often reviewed by you, as they contain a body of divinity in miniature, and will prepare your minds for reading larger treatises on the same glorious subject.

     We now proceed to the consideration of a subject peculiarly needful to you in your single and collective character: the subject for this year is to be the Beauty of Social Religion, or the Glory and Excellence of a true Gospel Church. And we assure you, dear brethren, that we judge it a matter of vast importance and use for preachers and people to be clearly and soundly acquainted with the nature and constitution, the rights and privileges, the faith and order, the worship and ordinances, the officers and discipline, the spirit and temper, the end and design of a true church of Jesus Christ; in order that we may adore the wisdom of Christ as our great prophet, offer our worship to God through his atonement and intercession as our great high priest, and subject our souls and consciences to him as our supreme head, king, and law-giver.

     We have reason to fear, that there is a very criminal inattention to this important subject amongst professors of Christianity, and even among Protestant Dissenters of our own denomination. And what is the consequence? great ignorance of the glory and beauty of church-fellowship - great violations of the laws of our sovereign Lord the king in Zion, by which he is dishonoured and affronted in his own peculiar kingdom - the souls of true christians are injured in their best interests -- enquiring persons are offended and prejudiced, when they see professors live unworthy of their Lord and Saviour; and sinners are hardened in their neglect of his great and precious salvation.

     Let us therefore awake from our indolence of temper, and fix our attention on a subject which is so much for our own happiness, as well as for the glory of God.

     In treating on the nature of a Gospel Church, we will endeavour to keep in mind one peculiar idea of it, which must render it one of the most lovely and desirable things in the world, (viz.) That it is a state of gracious and refined friendship, grounded on a cordial love to God and to each other.

     Spiritual friendship is a pleasing attraction of the heart towards the beautiful and good qualities which we esteem, and the amiable image of God we admire in true christians - which produces a mutual inclination between two or more persons to promote each other's holiness and happiness.

     The spiritual friendship is the union of souls by means of vital holiness, which is the common cement or bond of their mutual and ardent affection.

     In treating of a Gospel Church, under the pleasing idea of a state of rational, moral, and divine friendship, we consider its materials, constitution and form, the dignity, order, officers, worship, spirit and uses of such a society; and we pray God to enlighten, impress, and animate your hearts whilst you read, and produce in you a most fervent love and attachment to such an excellent society, and cause you to become more useful and honourable members of such a glorious establishment of things under the sole head and sovereign.

I. THE NATURE of a GOSPEL CHURCH in its MATTER, CONSTITUTION, and FORM.

     A Church of Christ is a peculiar society of gracious souls, who are called out of a state of sin and misery by the almighty Spirit of God, associated by their own free consent to maintain the doctrines of grace - to perform gospel worship, and celebrate gospel ordinances, with the exercise of holy discipline to the glory of the divine perfections, and to promote their own usefulness and happiness in time and eternity.

     Such a society, or body of people is very much distinguished from the merely civil and political societies of this world, by the spiritual nature of their constitution, the privileges they enjoy, the officers they appoint, the worship they perform, the rules they observe, the head they obey, and the great and noble ends they pursue, which are abundantly superior to all the designs of the political societies of this world.

     And such a spiritual society is avowedly separated from, - and opposed to, the power and kingdom of Satan in this world. - See Rev. Daniel Turner's Compendium of Social Religion, p. 1-8.

     The members of this gracious society renounce the maxims, spirit, and manners of the world - they proclaim war with the fraud and force of the Devil, and entirely devote themselves to God in Christ; in obedience to the effectual call of the holy Spirit: which leads us, by an easy transition to consider.

The MATERIALS of a GOSPEL CHURCH.

     They are, or ought to be; real believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, with the exercise of true repentance towards God. They are distinguished from all other men by three great characteristics, (viz.) their convictions, their faith, and their new and divine nature. Their CONVICTIONS, or the source of truth in the law on their consciences, are extensive with respect to all sins - deep, and reach to the sins of the heart - durable and lasting, and cannot be shaken off or diverted by all the business and pleasures of the world.

     Their FAITH receives Christ alone, without retaining any of their lusts and idols, or mixing their own detestable rags with the divine satisfaction and righteousness of Christ. They receive a full Christ, as able to do them all manner of good: full of wisdom as a prophet, full of divine and infinite worthiness as a Priest, and full of power and grace as an almighty king. They receive Christ regardless of all threatening consequences; they take him at all hazards, they deliberately count the cost and are determined to conquer their enemies, or die in the conflict.

     Their NEW and DIVINE NATURE. They are regenerated by the Spirit of God, enlightened by the grace of Christ, made new in their apprehensions of God and themselves, make a new choice of holiness as the grand mean[s] of happiness; they exert new affections towards God and heavenly things, and feel a new taste for all that is good and beautiful in heaven and earth. This leads us to consider

THE CONSTITUTION OF A GOSPEL CHURCH.

     This consists in the diffusion of a divine nature through the souls of the members of this sacred society and the impression of the image and law of God on their hearts; which divine resemblance is unalterable in its nature, arising from its heavenly original and the supreme excellence of its construction: and this it is so established by God our redeemer in the hearts of his people, that it is not possible for men or devils to destroy it as long as the world shall endure: and every attempt to alter or to injure this divine constitution is not only unjust but daringly wicked: and the Son of God has dreadfully threatened, that if any man shall attempt to defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. I Corinthians iii. 17. - Wo be to that man who, without repentance and pardon, shall defile the Church with capital errors, or attempt to suppress or destroy it with the spirit of persecution.

The FORM of a GOSPEL CHURCH.

     This consists in the free and mutual consent of believing persons to walk together before God. A Church is a voluntary society: no man is naturally born into a Gospel Church; no man can be forced into it; but every true christian must be a volunteer: he is made willing in the day of the victorious power of the Spirit of God, and then they give themselves to the Lord, and to one another, by the will of God. 2 Corinthians viii. 5. - Jesus, our glorious general, disdains to impress men by a mere force into his armies: he infuses freely a divine life into our souls, and then we freely give ourselves to God.

II. The DIGNITY and PRIVILEGES of a GOSPEL CHURCH.

     Dignity is such a state of mind as to be above the dominion of sin, the spirit of the world and the tyranny of the devil: it consists in a connexion [sic] with the eternal God through Christ, and a sense of his approbation and delight in us to make us happy. - A privilege is a peculiar exemption from censures, dangers, and penalties; with a just right to rich goods, honors and pleasures from God in Christ.

     A body of people, composed of such materials, and blessed with such a constitution of a divine nature and life, are endowed with such honors and invested with such privileges, as no other persons on earth ever had, or can have, whilst they continue dead in sin, guilty before God, and at war with heaven.

     Our dignity and privileges arise from our connexion with God the Father. He delights in us: he has adopted us into his glorious family by his sovereign good pleasure. This blessing of adoption raises us above the angels and the whole creation of God. He keeps us as the apple of his eye: he is the root of our spiritual and divine existence, and his voice in his promises is c1ear, tender, and condescending: he speaks to us with all the ardor and compassion of a Father and a God.

     Our privileges, arising from our vital union with the Lord Jesus, are very precious and endearing to the last degree. The glorious union includes all that is rich, great, and honourable to eternity: - hence flows relief to the mind under every trouble, hence arises strong consolation to the soul by the inward preference of a heart cheering good, which will out balance all the pressures of pain and evil which we feel or fear.

     Christ is our glorious head and faithful guardian: we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. He is our legal head, or head in law - our federal head, or head in covenant - our political head, as a king over his subjects - our representative head, as he sustained the persons of all his people before God in eternity - he is our vital head to give us life, and moral and conjugal head to impart his love - he is our surety to pay our debts, bear our sins, endure our punishment, and give us a right to acceptance with God in eternal life.

     We were put into Christ's hands from eternity, with all our vast concerns and affairs, by God's own will and act of grace.

     We are the objects of Christ's everlasting love: he rejoiced in the habitable parts of the earth, and his delights were with the sons of men. Proverbs viii. 31.

     Christ is our divine tutor, or prophet, to reveal the whole will of God for our salvation: we are his disciples, to be instructed by him in time and to all eternity: he will for ever lead us to new fountains of truth, knowledge, and happiness.

     Christ has a full comprehension of the mind of God at once, in his vast understanding; and in his teachings there are glorious things for our instruction and satisfaction, with respect to the eternal and immutable nature of divine truth: he is the grand repository of all truth: in him it is full to free us from all fear of defect - infallible to bring the mind to assurance and rest in God - in him there is infinite authority, as our sovereign God, to cause the will to obey. Christ has a legal right and power to send the holy Spirit to lead us into all truth; and the eternal person of the Son of God is the spring of 1ife, light, and efficacy, in all his instructions of our immortal souls. This fulness without defect, this infallibility without mistake, and this absolute authority without weakness, affords matter of eternal safety and joy to all true believers in the world. Christ is our most valiant general, or commander in chief, of all the forces of God: we lift under his banner - from him we take our arms - by him we are exercised and taught military discipline - with Christ we march to fight - with him we ardently pray on earth, whilst he is pleading in heaven - by him we rout our foes - with him we conquer Devils, we storm his strong holds, we trample on all our lusts - and with him we triumph, and shout Victory forever.

     Our dignity and privileges likewise consist in our connexion with the church of God in heaven and earth. We are citizens of no mean city: we were born in the grandest city in the world, the ancient city of the great God; and we are spiritual freemen of this city to eternity. We are educated in Christís church in the most liberal and divine knowledge, and likewise in purity and dignity of manners and conversation: we are trained or in the most ardent and glorious devotion in the temple of God: we are allured into the most honourable and divine connexions with the best companions and relations, and rise in to the most sublime converse with all the best and brightest beings in heaven and earth.

     Our dignity arises also from our union with the angels of God. The spiritual birth-day of every believer is celebrated with great joy by these celestial spirits - they are our life and body guards, to watch around us by night and day through life - they are our attending servants every hour, and fly through all the earth every moment, to guard and guide, to fortify and animate the people of God. Angels triumph in our souls; they look on us as the excellent of the earth, as fit to receive good, and as fit to do them good; and they love to renew their views of us as the glorious children of God - they feel a pleasure to repeat the sight of us, and shew us to each other with wonder and delight - they carry a good report of us to heaven when we act agreeably to our principles, and our godly conversation fills them with a pleasing admiration.

     Our dignity and privileges, considered with regard to the natural and moral world, are very great and delightful. Our souls are the end for which the visible world, with the starry heavens, were created; and all ranks of creatures, by God's wisdom and love, are devoted to our service, even from an angel to a reptile, and from the blazing sun to a clod of earth.

     The souls of true believers are the ornament and glory of the universe: an honour to civil society: the heirs of the world, Romans iv. 13. and the judges of angels, 1 Corinthians vi. 3. Nothing is so great as the soul of a real christian in the whole creation: the soul is an image of the spiritual nature, the immutable essence, the immortal life, the infinite understanding, the almighty power, the rich goodness, and unspotted holiness of God. A believer in Christ is the greatest and worthiest character in life: he is the only wise, the only brave, the only great and happy man; he is happy in his life, happy in his death, and happy to eternity: he is a powerful warrior, an invincible conqueror, worthy of all moral honour, and dignified with the eternal approbation of God: he is a temple of the holy Spirit, and for that very reason he is and shall be an eternal temple of the living God! 1 Corinthians iii. 16. - O, Christians! you can never think too humbly of yourselves, as you are related to your first head Adam, the root of sin, misery, and ruin. You can never think too highly of your souls, as they stand in a vital relation to your second head, the Lord Jesus Christ, the source of holiness, happiness, strength, beauty, and invincible perseverance in grace. Let us frequently think of the dignity and privileges with which God has invested us, and let us study to walk worthy of God, to all well pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge and resemblance of God.

III. The FAITH and ORDER of a GOSPEL CHURCH.

     Persons thus called by grace, and constituted and endowed by God, are really blessed with true faith; which is not a mere cold assent to the truth, in the understanding, but a cordial consent of the will, and an hearty approbation of the whole of revealed truth, as it is good and beautiful, worthy of God, and bearing the impress of the divine perfections.

     Our confession of faith, and our Catechism for the instruction of our young people, are published to the world; and from these glorious principles we hope you will never depart: if you should, you will be no longer churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. At present, blessed be God we believe there is no apparent apostasy in our ministers and people from the glorious principles we profess; but at the same time, we must, in great plainness and faithfulness tell you, that catechizing of children is most sadly neglected, both in private families and in public congregations: and with respect to our printed confession of faith, we judge, that not one in an hundred of all our church members have ever so much as seen it. We take our part of the blame and shame, that we have not been zealous and faithful to recommend it, and put it into your hands -- may we and you be wiser for the future.

     Our honoured brethren, the ministers at Bristol, have lately encouraged the publication of two editions of our catechism, with and without the proofs;1 and we do most earnestly intreat you to furnish yourselves with this excellent compendium of true divinity, and that you would teach it diligently to your children in private, and desire your pastors to instruct them, at least for the summer season, in public.

The ORDER of a GOSPEL CHURCH.

     This we hold to be congregational, or what is usually stiled independent. Let this word be rightly understood: - we do not judge ourselves independent of civil government, as we are members of society: no sirs! we are so far from assuming independence on the good old British constitution, that we will dare to affirm, no men in England or in the world, are better friends to such civil government than we are, and desire always to be. It ever will be our principle and our interest to pray for and support a protestant king, that the crown may fit easy, and shine gloriously, upon his head to the latest posterity. Nor do we mean an independence on the providence and grace of God -- here we profess ourselves dependent every moment to eternity.

     But, by the word independent, we mean, that the Lord Jesus Christ, the sole fountain of all spiritual rights and power, has given us allowance and command to associate together to incorporate ourselves into regular societies, to carry on all the parts of public worship and discipline, to choose our pastors and deacons, to receive in new members, to admonish and reprove those that violate his laws, and to exclude from us all that prove incorrigible and impenitent: in a word, that we have a right and power to do every thing that shall be for the glory of Christ and our own happiness, without being necessarily obliged to call in the aid of other pastors and churches, or of being subject, in matters of faith and worship to any pretended spiritual power on earth whatsoever.

IV. The OFFICERS of a GOSPEL CHURCH.
     These are appointed and furnished by God our redeemer, for the edification, strength, beauty, and happiness of the church, and are chosen and set apart, with solemn prayer, by the vote of the church, to promote the general welfare of that society to which they belong.

     There are two classes or orders of officers in a christian church. The first2 is appointed and ordained to represent the whole system of truth in the law and gospel, in the most striking and amiable light to the people, and to lead the worship of the whole church, in all its branches to administer all public ordinances, and to take the sense and votes of the church with respect to the admission of new members, and to execute every part of the peoples' determinations. The other order of officers3 have the honour to be ordained of God our saviour, to represent his compassionate heart to the poor of the church; and also to represent and express the affections and bowels of the church to their dear pastors, that they may be supplied with a competence of temporal good, and rendered easy and happy in their studies and labours.

     With respect to the character and office of christian preachers: there are no men in the whole world who are dignified in the scriptures with such a variety of names and titles as gospel ministers; and every name and image under which they are represented, implies some excellent property or perfection. As far as our limits will allow, we will give you a view of their qualities and duties, to the end that you may discern the respect that is due to them, and give them that attention which their work and their great Lord demand.

     They are stiled Labourers, and they must work - Servants, and they must obey their divine master - Watchmen, and they must keep awake, and be full of eyes within and without - Overseers, and they inspect - Workmen, and they must study to approve themselves to God, that they may not be ashamed - Husbandmen, and they must cultivate the field of God - Shepherds, and they must feed the sheep and lambs of the flock - Householders, and they must provide for the family - Builders, and they must edify - Stewards, and they must be faithful! - Soldiers, and they must valiantly fight - Elders, and they must be serious and grave - Oxen, and they must be patient in labour - Eagles, and they must soar to the sun of righteousness - Lions, and they must full of courage and fortitude, Cherubs, and they must plough - Seraphs, and they must burn with zeal for God - Lights of the world and stars in the church, and they ought to shine to the honour of their master - Fathers, and they must be tender, 1 Thessalonians ii. 11. - Nurses, and they must be gentle, 1 Thessalonians ii. 7. - Saviours and they must proclaim salvation, Obadiah, ver. 21. - Justifiers,4 (Daniel xii. 3.) and their glory is to turn many to the righteousness of Christ for justification - Ambassadors, and they must be wise and noble - Earthen Vessels, and they must be humble. - To crown all, and to lift the character of a gospel minister to the highest pitch of honour, they are stiled [styled] Angels - Angels that have power over fire, Revelation xiv. 18. - Angels that stand in the sun, Revelation xix. 17,. i.e. in the full noon-tide blaze of the sun of righteousness. Angels are wise and illuminated creatures, so are true gospel preachers - Angels are holy creatures, so ought gospel ministers to be - Angels are active zealous creatures - Angels are affectionate and generous creatures - Angels love to gaze incessantly on the person, offices, and glories of Christ - Angels love to attend upon and minister to the children of God, so do gospel ministers - Angels rejoice at the conversion of sinners, Luke xv. - they watch over God's people in their infancy, Matthew xviii. 10. - have brought food to the saints, 1 Kings xix. - assist in healing diseases, John v. 4. - direct and guard the saints of God in their journies, Genesis xxxii. - keep off dangers, Psalm xci. 11. Acts xii. 15. Psalm xxxiv. 7. - make known the mind and will of God to men, Acts vii. 59. Luke ii. 10-14. - comfort saints in distress, Luke xxii. 43. Acts. xxvii. 23, 24. - repel the devil's temptations, Daniel x. 13, 20. - attend the saints on their dying beds, Luke xvi. 22. - and will attend their Lord when he comes in all his glory to judge the world at the last day, Matthew xxv. 31. - and in these instances the work of gospel ministers resembles the work and duties of angels.

     And now place all these images, good qualities, labours, and services before your eyes in one view; and what cordial esteem, what ardent affection, what encouragement, attention, succour, and support, ought the people to afford to their dear pastors, who are zealously ambitious to fill up these characters!

V. THE WORSHIP and ORDINANCES of a GOSPEL CHURCH.

     Worship consists in a deep and powerful sense of the infinite perfections and glories of God, expressed in the most ardent and pathetic manner, with the highest veneration and love for the divine nature and subsistences, agreeab1e to the revealed idea of God, and in an exact correspondence to our connexions with God, and obligations to him as redeemed souls; called by his spirit, and made heirs of eternal salvation through Christ's blood and intercession.

     And in this manner we ought to worship God every time we sing his praises in the psalms of the inspired scriptures - when we pray to God, by adoring his attributes, confessing our sins, pleading for new blessings, with a thankful acknowledgment of his mercies - thus we ought to worship God in reading his word, hearing his faithful ministers preach and explain his law and gospel.

     This head, concerning the worship of a gospel church, deserves a farther enlargement, but the limits to which we are confined will not admit of it; we must therefore leave these hints to your serious consideration. - Let us, before we close this part, observe, that there are two positive institutions of the New Testament; called baptism and the Lord's supper, which demand your best attention and affection.

     BAPTISM ought to be considered as glorious an act of worship as ever was instituted by God; it is to be performed but once in the life of a christian - but once to eternity; and therefore it ought to be done with the utmost veneration and love. We have only room to observe, that when it is performed by a right subject, and in a right manner, it is a great privilege and honour; but it cannot be a privilege to any but to those by whom it is performed as an act of worship to God. 5

     Our zealous and public-spirited friends at Bristol having lately published a large and cheap edition of Mr. Wilson's Scripture Manual on the Ordinance of Baptism( we desire you would peruse that excellent essay as a proper enlargement on this subject.

     The LORD'S SUPPER is another precious ordinance of divine worship, which draws into it the whole of faith and practice. A design is now on foot to furnish you with short and easy Contemplations6 on this most glorious and reviving institution.7

VI. The SPIRIT and CONDUCT of a GOSPEL CHURCH.

      The spirit and temper of a society today of true christians ought to be at great a remove from the spirit and temper of the world, the devil, and popery as possible; and as near an approach to the disposition and moral perfections of God and to the spirit and temper of the lovely Lord Jesus, and his primitive christians, as we can attain; that is to say, as high an advancement in solid goodness and love as any man can reach in the present state of imperfect sanctification: in short, the whole law is summed in one word, LOVE; and the whole temper of a true believer is summed up in one word, LOVE. True christian love is a single thought, or simple perception, that our fellow-christian is an excellent and worthy object, good in himself, fit to do us good, and fit to receive good; with a delight in the sight of him, as he bears the image of Christ, and is designed to live with us in the presence of God to eternity.

     As there never was a more striking and beautiful description of the grace of love to God and man, than that which the Holy Spirit has given us in the first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter xiii. We will endeavour to set before you, from the original words of God, a compendious view of the true christian temper, as consisting in love: and let it be well observed, that we are no farther christians than we evidence this beautiful disposition of soul in our whole life and conversation.

     Love suffereth long: it has a vast extent of mind, and scorns resentment at little things.

     Love is kind: i.e. is diffusive of good, ready to communicate wise advice, kind affections, and temporal blessings.

     Love envieth not,: i.e. it feels no pain or ill-will at another man's excellence, nor does it covet any good with an ambitious affection of superiority.

     Love vaunted not itself: it does not act rashly, with a proud ostentation of our own gifts, talents; and imaginary or real advantages; it scorns to boast of any excellence which we possess.

     Love is not puffed up: it does not swell with pride at the applauses of others, nor is it puffed up with disdainful thoughts of men who appear beneath us.

     Love doth not behave itself unseemly: i. e. it teaches us not to act out of character, or our of scheme, as the word signifies. True christian love understands the fitness, decorum, and beauty of tempers, actions; and words. Nothing teaches the loveliness of behaviour so well as love; as it will not meanly sneak out of the place and station where providence has fixed us; so it will not haughtly invade another man's province or office, or scornfully trample on his person, honour, and usefulness.

     Love seeketh not her own, or the things of self alone, above all others: it disdains a mean-spirited selfishness. Self-pleasing, self-will, self-applause, and self-interest alone, are no guides to generous love, nor have they power to rule and tyrannize over a benevolent and gracious heart.

     Love is not easily provoked,; i.e. is nor highly and bitterly provoked, so as to fall into fits of violent anger on every imaginary or real wrong done to us. No, sirs, a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit, (Hebrews A cool spirit.)

     Love thinketh no evil: this word signifies to reason out and to impute. Love is not forward to reason out or dig up mischief concerning other men: it takes no pleasure in raking into characters, in order to expose them or prying into the secrets of private families, in order to blast their reputation. Love is not violent to impute evil to other men, and rashly and cruelly to charge evil to another manís account, and to think the worst of every man we dislike.

     Love rejoices not in iniquity: it is not glad; it takes no pleasure in any kind of injustice in men's tempers or actions; it has no delight in committing iniquity; yea, farther, it feels an horror at any act of injustice towards God or man.

     Love rejoiceth in the truth: it delights in moral truth and sincerity of heart; it rejoices itself in gospel truth; and it triumphs in the true conversion of souls to God.

     Dr. Samuel Wright, in his admirable Treatise on Justice and Love, 8 vo. 1730, has an excellent remark on this property of christian charity. Love (says that great man) will not suppress the sweet and rich satisfaction it takes in the amiable virtues, tempers, and usefulness of valuable ministers, or private Christians; nor will it withold any lively and cheering encouragements, which the discovery of its own joy would give to worthy active men, and to useful designs and generous plans for the glory of God and the public good of the church and the world. We proceed to another property.

     Love beareth, or rather covereth1 all things. True Christian love has a veil to throw over all unallowed blemishes, and to hide, in a sweet-tempered manner, all lamented imperfections in a Christian brother; and this is a most useful and happy temper in a church of Christ, and will produce most glorious advantages to preachers and people. Such a temper will prevent the hurt and shame of our brother's character, and prevent the sad disgrace of religion in the world.

     Love believeth all things. This is to be understood in a right sense; to believe all things that are reported, without limitation, is a foolish credulity, and the mark of a weak mind; but true love will give a good-natured credit for all reports in favour of gracious men, as far as we have any clear evidence - yea, farther, love is disposed to promote and strengthen the honourable character of good men, and especially that of useful ministers of the gospel in every denomination.

     In a word, love believes all things that are good and fit to be credited, while evil reports will not be assented to or received, till there is clear proof, full evidence, and invincible demonstration.

     Love hopeth all things. - She looks for good; she desires and expects good, and not evil, from the dear people of God. True love expects good from every believer in the same church, or in the same family. - Masters hope the best from their believing servants - godly servants hope the best from their Christian masters - parents hope the best from their godly children - children hope the best from their godly parents - people hope the best from their affectionate and faithful pastors - and amiable pastors hope the best from their lovely and generous people. Thus love inspires a cheering and vigorous hope through all ranks and classes of true christians.

     Love endureth all things. To endure implies it continuance in such a station or condition of life and in such trying and afflictive circumstances, as require a patient firmness of soul, a true fortitude of mind: and you may depend upon it, that nothing but ardent love to God and the church will enable a man to hold on in generous services for our dear country, and the still dearer church of Christ on earth.

     Love never faileth. It will never perish or be lost from the soul. Love can never die, it can never be useless, it cannot suffer destruction, but is and must be immortal as our being. Love is an indefatigable grace; it will never give out or tire in time or eternity; it will bear up against continual oppositions, and rise superior to all difficulties: floods of ingratitude and ill usage can never drown it: 'tis invincible, and will be finally victorious and triumphant. Love is immortal as God can make it, and must reign in eternal empire over all the happy inhabitants of the heavenly world!

     The very reverse to this beautiful christian temper took place in the Corinthian church, when the apostle Paul wrote his first epistle to that church; and if you read it with attention, you will find that this excellent man, with the utmost prudence and address, designed this description of love as a pungent reproof for their carnal contentions, and as a powerful essay against uncharitableness in all its branches, kinds, and degrees -- may we receive it in the same light, and use it in our churches for the same glorious purposes.

     Many members of the church of Corinth did not suffer long: they were not of a large generous mind: they were not kind to each other: they envied each other's gifts: they vaunted over one another: they were puffed up with pride, or a fond conceit of their own imaginary excellence: they behaved unseemly: they acted out of character they sought the things of self: they were easily provoked, and violently angry, even so as to go to law with each other before the Pagan magistrates: they thought evil: they digged up evil, and imagined the worst of each other: they rejoiced in iniquity, and did not mourn even at the crime of incest: they did not rejoice in the truth: they covered no infirmities, but exposed one another's failings to the reproach of the wicked world: they believed nothing good of each other: they hoped for nothing that was excellent, but thought and expected the worst from every man: they endured no contradiction, or opposition, or affliction, with patience and fortitude: their love often failed, and a spirit of enmity and ill-will reigned in their bosom, to the scandal and disgrace of their Christian character!

     O! brethren, let us frequently hold up this picture of baseness and deformity to public abhorrence and contempt, and let us ardently pant after the opposite to this detestable temper; then we. shall appear to be Children of the great king, and the excellent of the earth, in whom God delights.

     Sincere believers, who are endued with such a spirit of evangelical love, will feel a delight in the practice of all relative duties to each other.

     They will see and feel, that love is the supreme and immutable law of God, which powerful1y attracts and unites all gracious souls to Christ, and to each other. That this temper of love is a most beautiful imitation of Christ's pure and perfect examp1e; and that mutual love is the first grand evidence of our being passed from death to life.

     'Tis love, unfeigned and fervent, 'tis love only that makes church fellowship sweet and profitable; for without love a church is not a palace, but a prison; not & paradise of pleasure, but a dungeon of darkness, without one ray of consolation or usefulness.9

     A church is a barren desart, a howling wilderness, full of savage and hateful creatures, if love, unfeigned and ardent, be absent there.

     If this blessed temper prevail amongst our churches, you will then feel the most cordial esteem for your dear pastors: consider them as designed and sent by God the Redeemer, to make you happy; as fit to do you good, and as fit to receive good from you all: you will delight to make your ministers easy and happy in their minds and circumstances; pray earnestly for the success of their studies and labours: you will do all in your power to co-operate with their best views and designs: you will help your dear deacons in the discharge of their office: inquire out awakened souls: you will take them by the hand and lead them to the deacons and to your pastors: and sweetly persuade young converts to say, "We will go with you, for we know that God. is with you." Zechariah viii. 23.

     You will have an ardent fellow-feeling with each other, in all conditions and calamities, in all outward afflictions and inward distresses of soul.

     You will be active and generous in the free diffusions of good, i. e. of temporal blessings, and of spiritual sentiments, and inward experience, to warm and animate each other's hearts.

     You will watch over each other's tempers, language, and actions: you will mark the growth and the declensions, the temptations and snares, that arise in your societies.

     You will exercise mutual forbearance and sweetness of temper, mixed with justice, frankness openness, and purity of mind.

     You will feel a glorious union of mind and sentiments, of judgment, of faith, worship, and moral conduct. -- If love, omnipotent and immortal love, reign in your hearts, you will exercise ardent prayer for each other in all cases and distresses: you will peculiarly pray for the success of your ministers labours, and you will take part in each other's prosperity and joy.

     You will be early and steady in your attendance on public worship, and be remarkable for your punctuality at all church-meetings: the face of things in this respect would be wonderfully changed for the better if powerful love to God reigned in your hearts! You would then avoid all criminal partiality towards some members, whilst others are slighted and oppressed: you would beware of invidious distinctions between rich and poor members, and universal esteem would reign through the church; and nothing but eminence in grace and good works would raise one member above another.

     You would, if love reigned in your hearts, he affable and courteous towards all men: and yet, with an holy caution, you would keep yourselves separate from carnal men; and, whilst you would pity and pray for erroneous men, you would disdain to have any fellowship with their errors, or favour any corrupt sentiments.

     O! brethren, if this omnipotent and everlasting love reigned in your hearts, how vast, how mighty would be your zeal for the glorious gospel: how would you relish and prize, and propagate divine revelation: how lion-like would be your strife for the doctrines of pure grace: and how valiant and bold would you be for the purity, extent, and eternity of the moral law, as it is the copy of the shining purity of the perfections of God.

     You would then set a striking example of godliness and good works to each other: you would provoke one another to love and good works, by exhibiting the most beautiful patterns of vital faith, ardent zeal, and public spirit for God: your hearts would expand as wide as the whole church on earth, and rise with a noble glow of refined affection to the church of God in heaven!

VII. The GLORIOUS ENDS and USES of a GOSPEL CHURCH.

     An end is that for which a thing is made or done; and the ends and purposes for which God made, constituted and ordained his church on earth, are the most glorious that can enter into the human conception; they an great and wonderful beyond imagination.

     These ends respect the divine Father, Son, and Spirit - the world - enquiring souls - the powers of hell and darkness - our own edification, and eternal happiness.

     1. The first grand end of a gospel church is to represent God's true character in the world. The visible creation, is a passive representation of the wisdom, power, and goodness of God; but all creatures below man have no capacities to do it with an active intention and rational choice. The corrupt world of mankind has no desire to declare the moral perfections of God: no, they rather represent the devil than God. Therefore, if God had no church on earth, there would be nothing but a dreadful representation of the devil in our world. In the church, God is made known; and it is the highest duty, honour, and privilege of the people of God to represent his pure and perfect character to the world. If they are wise, in their conduct this will shew the world that God is a wise and understanding being: if they are good and kind, this will shew the world that God is good and kind, a most amiable and attractive being: if they are a holy people, in their nature, inclinations, and actions, this will shew the world that God is a holy being, brighter than the heavens, and purer than the unstained light of the sun: if they are a most just people, this will shew the world that God is a just being, and that he is invariably determined to do no wrong to any of his creatures: if they are a sincere and faithful people, who hate all lying and deceit; this will evince to the world that God is a sincere and faithful being, an hater of all lying, hypocrisy, and unfaithfulness; a God of inflexible integrity, truth, and fidelity.

     And O! brethren, what an infinite honour is this, so represent God to mankind; to be the living images of God to the world; to exhibit a beautiful image of God our Redeemer, to men, to angels, to devils! to shew to all the worlds of rational minds the beautiful character of God. Do not your hearts rebound at the thought? Are not your passions fired with an holy ambition to rise to this glorious honour? Do you not scorn the image of the beast and the devil, which you have so long borne upon your hearts? Do you not wish to be rid of these hateful, these ugly and horrible features? And do you not feel a most passionate admiration at the grandeur and beauty of the moral character of God? Have you not a most flaming desire to be like him as much as possible?

     2. Thus you will stop the mouths of the wicked and condemn the finally impenitent at the last day. Bad men censure and revile you now as hypocrites; they boldly affirm, that all your religion is mere grimace; you are as bad, yea worse than themselves. 'Tis true, say they, "you will not openly swear, or publicly get drunk, or break the Sabbath, as we do; but, at bottom, you are as lewd, as false, as covetous, as cruel, as oppressive; as sensual, and as earthly and devilish as we are." Now, how can you confound these censures! How can you avoid them, how can you stop the mouth of slander, or how can you prove it to be slander, unless you faithfully represent the moral character of God to the world!

     3. Another great end and use of a gospel church, is to allure awakened and inquiring souls to Christ, to be happy in his great and precious salvation. Nothing has a greater tendency to allure, to encourage, to animate the hopes of convinced sinners, than the holy, cheerfu1, godlike tempers and conversation of the members of a gospel church. Thus we shew them, that there is a reality, a beauty, a pleasure, in the ways of God: we comfort their hearts with an assurance, that the master we serve is good and great, generous and kind, mild and gentle, easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, severity, or hypocrisy: he that winneth souls is wise, and do you not long for this honour of being wise, to win precious souls to Christ? Next to the salvation of our own souls, what can be imagined more dear, more excellent, more desirable, than to be the instruments of the salvation of our fellow-sinners?

     O! Christians if you have any ambition, or gratitude, or justice, or compassion, you will rouse up all your powers to this great and good work!

     4. Lastly, and to conclude, another great end and use of a gospel church is to promote each other's present and eternal happiness. Man was originally made a sociable being. Grace gives us a capacity and a strong inclination to the best company in the world; and in religious society we attain the highest ends of our existence. We watch over each other for good - we communicate new thoughts to each other - we mingle souls in prayer at the throne of grace - we warn and reprove the negligent and disorderly - we stimulate and provoke to higher improvements in the intellectual, social, and divine life - we comfort each other in affliction and sorrow - we attend on the dying beds of our departing friends, and commit them to the bosom and the blessing of the dear redeemer - we ascend, by faith, with their separate spirits, and long to follow them into the blissful and transforming presence of God! On this view of the beauty of social religion, or the true nature and glory of a gospel church, who, that has any spiritual sense, will not approve of it, highly delight in it, and long to possess all the utmost advantages of such a state of divine friendship? and who, that has any sense of gospel honour in such societies, will not strive to strengthen, comfort, and adorn it? - This, dear brethren, is your wisdom and duty, and this is ours. - To the grace of Jesus, to the love of the Father, and the sweet influences of the holy Spirit, those three glorious persons in one divine nature, we commit you for ever.

Signed, by order of the Association,
JOHN RYLAND Moderator.


Endnotes

* The author of this Circular Letter is identified by Dr. Tom Nettles in By His Grace and for His Glory, 1986, p. 73. - jrd
1 With the proofs, 15s per hundred, without, 7s. 6d.
2 Pastors, Elders, or Bishops.
3 Deacons. See their office, qualities, honors described. 1 Tim. iii. 8-13.
4 So it is in the original.
5 See a Contemplation on Baptism, or Six Views of Believers' Baptism, viz, as an act of sublime worship to the sacred Three: -- as a representation of the dreadful sufferings of Christ, &c. Designed as an introduction to Mr. John Fellows's Hymns on Baptism. -- Sold by Geo Keith, Gracechurch-Street, and J. Detmer, Shad-Thames, London. Pr. 3d. -- with Dr. Stennett's answers to Mr. Addington. 2 vols, 12mo.
6 The price is now reduced to 1s. per dozen, or 7s. Per hundred.
7 The first Contemplation is already published. -- Sold by T. Vallance, No. 120, Cheapside. Pr. 6d.
8 Dr. Daniel Waterland justly observes, that the true doctrine of the Trinity, and the atonement of Christ, have been kept up in the Christian church, by the institutions of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, more than by any other means whatsoever; and, humanly speaking, these glorious truths, which are essential to salvation, would have been lost long ago, if the two positive institutions had been totally neglected and disused amongst professors of christianity. In this point of view, Baptism and the Lord's Supper appear to be of importance to the glory of God and the very being of the true church of Christ on earth.
9 So is the original.
10 See Dr. Gill on a Gospel Church. Body of Practical Divinity. Vol. III.

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SUPPLEMENT.

      AS we have a vacant part of a page, it may be proper to observe, for the instruction of young inquisitive christians, that the whole body of church history may be ranged under four heads, (viz.)

      I. The doctrine of the church, in all ages, with the lives, characters, and works of the ablest champions of truth who have stated and defended that doctrine.

      II. The form and condition of the church, in the several periods of time; including the external state and situation, and the internal beauty and glory of the church, with respect to the power and excellence of vital religion.

      III. The principal errors which have arisen to disturb and defile the church of Christ, with the lives and characters of those unhappy men who have first broached, defended, and propagated those errors.

      IV. The history of all the horrid persecutions which have befallen the church of Christ, with the lives, characters, and death of the persecutors, or tyrants, which have distressed the church in all ages.

      The two first heads exhibit the face of the kingdom of Christ; the two last exhibit the face of the kingdom of the Devil.

See Lampe's admirable Epitome of Ecclesiastical History, now publishing in the Gospel Magazine.


MINUTES.

      On Tuesday evening, we met at the usual hour, and, after some of the brethren the messengers had prayed, we read the several letters, took the contents, and concluded the meeting with prayer

      On Wednesday morning, after six, we met again for prayer, in which several of the ministers were engaged.

      At ten the public meeting began -- our brother Sutcliffe prayed -- brother Fuller, of Soham, preached from Rom. xiii. 2. "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." Brother Gill prayed and brother Hopper, of Nottingham, preached from Ephesians iii. 8. "That I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." Brother Evans concluded the public meeting.

      At four we met to examine the contents of the circular letter, the design of which was approved -- some alterations for the better were made, and it was agreed that the letter should be printed.

      At six our brother Shaw prayed -- brother Guy preached from Matt. xvi. 3. "But can ye not discern the signs of the times." -- And brother Ryland, senior, concluded in prayer.

      On Thursday morning we met for prayer, and communicating our experience of the goodness of Christ in the last year. This branch of christian fellowship we find to be very impressive and useful to our souls. -- The association was concluded, with prayer, by brother Smith the pastor of the church where we met. And, glory be to our blessed master, we departed from each other in love and peace.


Added upon profession of faith and experience  --                       56
By letter of reconciliation from other churches  --                     13								
	__                                                       69

	
	Dead  					-- 			29
	Dismissed to other churches		-- 			 9
	Excluded				-- 			14

							     ----52	
Increase					--			17

      The next Association to be held at Leicester. Brother Ryland, senior, and brother Sutcliffe to preach; in case of failure, brother Smith and brother Ayre. -- Put up at the Saracen's-Head.

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NORTHAMPTON, Printed by T. Dicey. [Price Two-pence.]

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ADVERTISEMENT.

      The Doctrine of the TRINITY Stated and Defended, by Robert Hall, of Arnsby. Price 6d.

      Contemplations on the EXISTENCE of GOD -- the IMMORTALITY of the SOUL -- and the INSUFFFICIENCY of REASON to lead us to Eternal HAPPINESS. Price 6d each.

By JOHN RYLAND.
Sold by Messrs. DILLY, in the Poultry, and Mr. VALLANCE, No. 120, Cheapside, London.

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[From a photocopy of the original at Regents Park Baptist College, Angus Library, Oxford, England. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]



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