The ministers and messenger's of the several Baptist churches, convened in Association, at Philadelphia, October 4, 1785.
To the respective churches, with whom we are connected, send Christian salutation.
Dearly beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ, -- The subject, which we are to address you upon, is contained in Chapter XI. of our Confession of faith, which treats of Justification. A subject truly important! One of the fundamental articles of our holy religion! As such, demands our very particular attention. Therefore, wherein we are obliged, owing to the confined limits of our annual epistle, to study brevity, our hope and expectation is, that you will individually make up such deficiency by serious meditation.
Perspicuity being our aim, we shall,
I. Explain the term.
II. Consider the Author.
III. The objects interested.
IV. The blessings resulting.
I. To explain the term. Justification, spiritually or evangelically considered, is a complete acqnittal from imputed and contracted guilt; a deliverance from the condemning power of sin; an act of free grace flowing from Jehovah's sovereign good will and pleasure. By many eminent divines this leading doctrine of our creed is viewed as twofold -- eternal and declarative. By the former, we understand that which existed in the divine mind from everlasting, respecting the chosen seed, united with Christ their head, "who hath saved us, according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus, before the world began," 2 Tim. i. 9. By the latter, viz., declarative justification, is designed that which, in time, takes place in or on the conscience of a believer, commonly styled justification by or through faith. It is upon this, dear brethren, we now address you, this is the light wherein our Confession treats upon it, agreeing herewith, our catechism tells us that "justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone." To be thus fully absolved from all sin and guilt, by virtue of Christ's plenary satisfaction, and pronounced "heirs of eternal life." Oh how enlivening the thought! how animating the reflection! "Bless the Lord, O our souls, and all that is within us, bless his holy name!"
II. To consider the Author of our justification. In other words from whom it proceeds. Blended with which we must just hint at some of the causes hereof.
Educated in the school of Jesus, and instructed by the unerring Spirit of the Most High, yon are ready, dearly beloved, to anticipate us under this head, by exclaiming with an inspired apostle, "It is God who justifieth," Rom. viii. 33. A Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. A truth this, when viewed in all its parts, calculated to excite not only within us, but amid the angelic choir the highest wonder. "Which things the angels desire to look into," 1 Pet. i. 12. "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him who believeth in Jesus," Rom. iii. 25, 26. "Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses," Acts xiii. 38, 39. "And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God," 1 Cor. vi. 11. Many other texts might be quoted, did we not believe you to be already well established in this peculiar excellency of gospel revelation! Nevertheless for our mntual edification, permit us, previous to our dismission of this head, to mention, with all due conciseness, a few of the causes of our beiug thus justified or pronounced righteous. "The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them who have pleasure therein," is of equal force now as when penned by Israel's king. Thus supported, we will not be backward in asserting --
1. That from this main pillar, this sublime characteristic of gospel truth, man's obedience to a law of works is to be utterly excluded. Paul peremptorily says, "By the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified in his sight," Rom. iii. 20. This single declaration, confirmed by repeated equal testimony, condemns at once every idea of justification by virtue of our own doings. Those who harbor a sentiment so opposed to Jehovah's revealed will, vainly imagine, consistent with themselves, to bring the Supreme Governor of universal nature under obligation to do them good. But, beloved, we have not so learned Christ; we do not wish to rob the blessed Redeemer of the highest diadem in his mediatorial crown; we do not intend thus basely to detract from that glory which peculiarly belongs to the sacred Three-One. "For there is not a just man upon earth, who doeth good and sinneth not," Ecc. vii. 20. "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags," Isa. lxiv. 6.
2. What is by too many denominated, compliance with gospel terms, we do not admit as having any claim hereunto. Those who cherish this opinion are grossly mistaken. The gospel of our salvation is unconditional: it knows no terms on our part as leading to a justifying righteousness. Faith and repentance are graces bestowed by the Spirit of God, they are blessings flowing from the covenant which is ordered in all things and sure. In fine, regeneration of soul, sanctification of heart, sincerity of disposition, holiness of life, persevering fidelity, undeviating acquiescence in Jehovah's government, steady zeal for Imanuel's interest, all our own pious frames of mind, comfortable feelings, and approving testimonies of conscience, are, with respect to this all-essential doctrine, to be kept totally out of view. To what then is our justification to be ascribed?
First. To the mere grace or favor of God as the moving cause, "being justified freely by his grace," Rom. iii. 24. " But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared; not by works of righteousness, which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us," Tit, iii. 4, 5. That, which never could have been found out by men or angels, the wisdom of Jehovah contrived and his love hath made known. This is the original source. Here is the fountain from whence all doth spring.
Second. To the life and passion of Jesus as the procuring cause. "But God commendeth his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him," Rom. v. 8, 9. He fulfilled every precept, bore the whole penalty of the law in the room and stead of his people. Thus was the law magnified and rendered honorable, an end made or sin, and everlasting righteousness brought in. "And this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS," Jeremiah xxiii. 6. Oh glorious name! predicted long before his incarnation. Unto whom should we go, but unto our once bleeding but now risen Saviour, for acceptance? For us he drank the bitter cup. It will not do to substitute any thing in the place of this noble sacrifice; it is now a righteous thing with God, freely to justify and abundantly to pardon: "In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory, " Isa. xlv. 25. The robe of Christ's righteousness is a garment down to the foot, wherewith every member of the mystical body is amply covered, "for he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him," 2 Cor. v. 21. "Such a High Priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners," Heb. vii. 26. Should any question, how doth Christ's righteousness, thus consisting of the holiness of his nature, his active and passive obedience, become ours in such wise that we are necessarily deemed righteous too?
We readily Answer --
By imputation; by making it over unto us; reckoning it ours, or placing it to our account, being wrought out by our elder brother on behalf of the whole ransomed flock. "David describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works," Rom. iv. 6. Pursuant, therefore, to the unalterable purpose of heaven; agreeable to the economy of man's redemption; this righteousness of the precious Jesus, whereof so many glorious things are spoken, is as much ours as though wrought out by ourselves in our own proper persons; Rom. v. 18,19; Phil. iii. 8, 9. Thus clothed upon with raiment of needlework -- thus united, with the head, how can the members be viewed by God the judge of all but as perfectly and completely justified. "And ye are complete in him, who is the head of all principality and power," Col. ii. 10.
Third. Our justification is by some ascribed to faith as an instrumental cause. Strictly speaking, we apprehend faith as no cause at all in this momentous procedure, but rather as an effect. It is true, the scriptures frequently mention a justification by faith. By such expressions it is evident the object, and not the act, of faith is designed; the object of faith is Christ and his righteousness; this the believing soul lays fast hold on. Faith is the eye which discovers, the hand which receives; espying a Saviour's worth, charmed with his merit, the believer is so enraptured as to cast away all his heavy burden, falls at Messiah's feet, confides in the promise, and pleads atoning blood: "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness," Rom. x.10. It is beautifully noticed by one of our very first and most orthodox writers. "The reason why any are justified is not because they have faith; but the reason why they have faith is because they are justified." If justified faith as a work performed by us or a grace wrought within us; where would have been the necessity of the death and resurrection of Jesus? Faith is that precious grace, by which we do in a certain manner put on the righteousness of the Lord's anointed, and receive the greatest of all blessings from the God of our salvation. "It is grace (saith one) which quarrels much with human pride and makes its only boast of Sharon's rose; and never was meant to be our justifying righteousness in the sight of God, else it would learn to boast." Faith says, "In the Lord have I righteousness;" and tells a sinner, "I cannot save thee; thou art saved by grace through faith." The grace of Jesus, and that alone brings salvation; and the sinner, through faith as an instrument, puts in his hand, is enabled to reach the rich donation; just as a beggar, by his empty cap stretched forth, receives an alms.
III. To mention the objects interested. In the examination of this particular, what abundant reason have we to adopt the prophetic language, "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." Isa. viii. 20. The persons justified through rich and sovereign grace are, in the living oracles, declared to be "ungodly," Rom. iv. 5; also, "sinners," Gal n. 17. Was it not for declarations like these, where could be our comfort? We are all sinners; we are all ungodly; does it from hence follow, that all who are sinners, all who are ungodly, are without exception justified? By no means! The whole canon of scripture combine with the dictates of sound experience to render every such idea inadmissible! It is true, we read "that by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life," Rom. v. 18. By a careful revision of what goes before, and follows after, we shall find the apostle did not mean all men absolutely, but all the chosen, all believers; his epistle was directed to "all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints." Moreover, the justified are represented as a pecu1iar peop1e, and have such characters ascribed to them, as cannot, without the greatest inconsistency and abuse of language, be ascribed to all the progeny of fallen Adam. They are spoken of as those who are predestinated, redeemed, pardoned, effectually called, sanctified, regenerated, &c. That these things are not true, with respect to all the lapsed family, every unprejudiced mind must acknowledge. Upon the whole, those who are unworthy and guilty in themselves, but in the everlasting covenant elected and beloved, have the righteousness whereon their justification is founded, not only exhibited to them by the gospel, but brought nigh by the Holy Ghost; these are the "purchased possession," this is the "bride, the Lamb's wife;" between whom and the Lord Jesus, an union not only now exists but hath existed, ancient as eternity itself. "I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore, with loving kindness have I drawn thee," Jer. xxxi. 3. A multitude which no man can number.
IV. The last thing proposed for investigation, we now hasten to unfold; viz: the blessings resulting herefrom.
Where, dear brethren, shall we begin, and how shall we end; blessings great indeed crowd in upon us! blessings beyond compare are consequential on our being thus freely justified! a doctrine pregnant with comfort inexpressible; a foundation is hereby laid not simply for fluctuating hope, but for the full assurance of present and of future bliss. By virtue hereof, we experience:
1. A freedom or deliverance from sin and condemnation. From all sin, as to its guilt from its reigning power and dominion, and by and by from its in-being: "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son, cleanseth us from all sin," 1 John i. 7; Heb. x. 12-14. Our sins are covered and hid from the all penetrating eye of divine justice, and when sought for hereafter shall not be found. "There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus," Rom. viii. 1; Gal. iii. 13. When seriously reflecting on our happy rescue from the hands of Satan, our accusing foe; also from death and the grave, as penal evils: but more especially from the pains of hell and the wrath to come, and all as the effect of love divine! what heart among us can remain cold and lifeless? what tongue among us can cease to praise?
2. As justified, we enjoy peace with God. "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ," Rom. v. 1; connected herewith is real peace of mind! Oh, happy souls! brought fully to behold a crucified Redeemer making peace by the blood of his cross: "The chastisement of our peace was upon him," Isa. iii. v. Knowing this to be the case, well may we, "on the dove-like wings of faith, fly far away from the storms and tempests of an opposing conscience, and find in the Rock of Ages a quiet sanctuary and safe retreat."
3. The acceptance of our persons and services is another blessing resulting herefrom. The Father is well pleased with both for the alone sake of Christ his Son, "to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved," Eph. i. 6. Christ's garments smell of myrrh, aloes, and cassia, wherewith his people being clad, the Lord smells a sweet smell in them also. A view of this emboldens us to draw near to the King of kings, Heb. x. 19-22. The person, the blood, the righteousness, the mediation of Jesus are the only foundation of all our pleas at the celestial throne.
4. As justified we are blessed through life, shall be so at death, yea, throughout eternity. While on earth, we are expressly assured that "all things work together for our good;" when summoned to die, we need not fear the grim messenger. The property of temporal death with respect to God's people is greatly changed; it puts an end to all their sorrowa, hath its sting taken away, and will prove to be our very great gain. In honor and triumph are such conveyed to the mansions above, and oh! with what joy are the everlasting doors expanded wide for their reception. Our bodies, though mouldered to dust, will nevertheless enjoy a glorious resurrection -- our persons, at the last day, an honorable distinction and gracious approbation from the Judge supreme; never ceasing felicity, consummate happiness, and perpetual glory will be our portion. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them who love him," 1 Cor. ii. 9. We shall then, oh joyful period! live and reign with Christ for ever and ever, and our song will uninterruptedly be, "Unto him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us priests and kings unto God and his Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever," Rev. i. 5, 6. Justification and glorification are closely connected; they go, as it were, hand in hand, Rom. v. 8, 10; viii. 30.
Having thus endeavored to explain this leading article of the Christian faith, we shall now close our address with such inferences as appear easily deducible therefrom.
1. Hereby we are taught the futility of opinions which, however remotely, lead to self dependence. Justification either by our own external performances or any inherent holiness whatever, are sentiments fully exploded by all who are acquainted with the truth as it is in Jesus: we are justified in such a way as excludes, in every sense, all boasting in ourselves. "Where is boasting, then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay; but by the law of faith," Rom. iii. 27.
2. The necessity of highly prizing that righteousness which is revealed in the gospel, as the only foundation of genuine hope and solid joy. This righteousness as hath been proved, is the alone matter of our justification in Jehovah's sight; a righteousness which was devised and provided for us by the Father; wrought out for us by the Son, and now made over unto us by the Holy Ghost; a righteousness perfect and divine, wherewith justice is satisfied, the law magnified, the Triune glorified, and grace, superabounding grace displayed. To exhibit this righteousness, to elucidate its worth, to inform us of the peculiar happiness of those to whom it is imputed, is the main design both of the Old and New Testaments. May we, therefore, "search the Scriptures, for they are they which testify of Immanuel, God with us."
We also --
3. From hence, learn that the standing of all who are justified is secure indeed. To fall therefrom is utterly impossible. How can such come into condemnation, or be made partakers of the second death? They cannot; the righteousness of the Mediator is an everlasting righteousness. This being the sole ground of our confidence, it evidently follows that our abiding is safe; the believer can never lose his interest therein; the act which justifies is in itself unalterable; it is coeval with the eternal covenant; the benefit thereof is insured, and will for ever be enjoyed by us. "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord," Isa. liv. 17. The love wherewith we are loved, the grace wherewith we are visited, will endure unto the end.
"For Christ in every age has prov'd,
His purchase firm and true;
If this foundation be removed,
What shall the righteous do?"
Is it then, dearly beloved brethren, as hath been represented? Supported by the unerring volume, we think this question may be fully answered in the affirmative. What improvement, then, ought we to make of so essential a part of truth divine? Examine yourselves. Have you any solid reason whereon to ground your belief that you are the objects interested? Admire then the grace of God, in imputing to you righteousness so complete; rejoice therein, and have no confidence in the flesh; ascribe the whole of your finished salvation to Jehovah's boundless love; sing, in humble notes, the church's song, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake," Ps. cxv.
1. Live near to God, to whose unmerited favor alone you are indebted for a translation from surrounding darkness into marvellous and stupendous light. The doctrine of justification, when rightly viewed, unavoidably leads to strict holiness both in life and conversation. Evidence, then, by your constant fruit, that you are the called of God in Christ, Jesus; persevere in the discharge of every duty. "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid. Yea, we establish the law," Rom. iii. 31. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained, that we should walk in them," Eph. ii. 10. Be not discouraged, though you have foes without and foes within. Greater is he who is for us, than all those who are against us. Owing to indwelling corruption and pride of heart, we too often offend the best of Beings; for our consolation it is recorded, "If we forsake his law, and walk not in his judgments; if we break his statutes, and keep not his commandments, then will he visit our transgressions with a rod, and our iniquities with stripes. Nevertheless, his loving kindness will he not utterly take from us, nor suffer his faithfulness to fail," Ps. lxxxix. 30-33. See also Isa. liv. 7, 8. Chastised we may be with the rod of a father, but not with the wounds of an enemy. "What though your afflictions are great? there is no wrath in the portion of your cup; though men should condemn you, God will not; though devils accuse you, they shall not prevail."
How honored are the subjects of Jehovah's grace! By far more dignified than the angels who never sinned! Frequently call to mind that celestial anthem, which, through eternity, will be chaunted [sic] on the highest key by all the redeemed throng; "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing," Rev. v.12. You can never think enough of Christ and his righteousness; let this then be your constant theme.
"Some this, some that good virtue teach,
To rectify the soul;
But we first after Jesus reach,
And richly grasp the whole."
The doctrine of justification, the subject treated upon in this letter, being a doctrine so infinitely momentous, we do, with all Christian affection, as members of the same body with you, recommend it to the serious and candid perusal of all. A doctrine, we trust, wherein our associated churches are firmly established; for wherever the gospel is purely preached, this doctrine must necessarily not only make a part, but a distinguished part thereof. That the light of divine truth may emit its rays in such wise, as to dispel every gloom and all the mists of error; that soundness in every article of our orthodox faith may be restored among, and contended for, by all God's children, wherever dispersed; that the good word of the kingdom may run to and fro and be abundantly glorified, even from the rising to the setting sun; that whenever it is dispensed it may be accompanied with the demonstration of the Spirit and of power; finally, that the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, may visit all our borders, is, dear brethren, the unfeigned wish and cordial prayer of yours, in the best of bonds.
By order of the Association, OLIVER HART, Moderator. WILLIAM ROGERS, Clerk. ==============
[From Minutes of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, 1707 to 1807, 1851; reprint, 2001, pp. 207-214. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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