The messengers of the Baptist churches, belonging to the Philadelphia Association, met in the city of Philadelphia, October, 7th, 1788.
To the churches with whom they are connected, greeting;
Beloved brethren, -- The great design of our annual meeting is to promote the welfare of the church of Christ, by giving our advice in difficult cases, and by the use of every other means, to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. To accomplish this end, it has been thought expedient to select a chapter of our Confession of faith annually, to be the foundation of our circular letter. That which comes under consideration this year, is the doctrine of Saving Faith, continued in the fourteenth chapter.
By such, as have wished to suit their definitions to carnal minds, the subject has been rendered very abstruse; but divine truth is plain and easy to them who are taught of God, and have learned of Christ to be meek and lowly in heart, believing all things contained in the holy scriptures.
The method in which we propose to treat the subject shall be,
First. To explain what we mean by saving faith.
Second. To give some distinguishing properties, or marks, of this precious grace.
I. It has been the custom of divines, in ages past, to use the word saving, when treating of this grace; hence it is probable, some have been led to suppose that this grace had something in it so meritorious as to justify the subject before God, at least in a conditional sense; but who ever reads our Confession of faith, will find that we exclude any such meaning, and only use the word to distinguish true faith from that kind, which is found in unregenerate men and devils. Saving faith may be thus defined, "That grace whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, which is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the word." By this grace the person is enabled to believe all divine truths revealed in the holy scriptures; and in particular to apprehend the Lord Jesus Christ1 and to rely alone on his atoning blood for acceptance in the sight of God. The apostle, speaking of salvation1 said, "By grace ye are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God," Eph. ii. 8. The same apostle informs us that the Ephesians were dead in trespasses and sins, and were by nature the children of wrath even as others; but when the gospel of Christ ,vas preached, the Holy Ghost working with the word, opened their hearts to receive it, and by his powerful operations implanted this grace, by which they were enabled to believe the record that God has given of his Son. The precious grace of faith is a free and sovereign gift of God, conveyed through the power of the Holy Ghost, and the instrumentality of the word; and is co-existent with regeneration, if not an essential part of it; and as it is not of ourselves, we see that all boasting is excluded, so that we may all say, "by the grace of God, we are what we are." When the apostle was enumerating the fruits of the Spirit, he mentions faith as one, Gal. v. 22. This is a truth which everyone, who is born of God, knows, and in substance will acknowledge. We know that this doctrine is too humiliating to carnal hearts, but it is as true as if they believed it; and if it was not so, there would be no true Christians on earth. Blessed be God, he has not left himself without many witnesses in our days, who are willing to confess that they were as unab1e to believe on the Lord Jesus, as to keep the law of Moses, till God gave them a now heart and a new spirit, through the powerful operations of the Holy Ghost. We will freely acknowledge, therefore, that our faith is through the operation of God, to the praise and glory of his free grace; and in the Psalmist's words, conclude, "Not unto us, O Lord! not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy and for thy truth's sake."
II. We now give some distinguishing properties, or marks, of this precious grace.
1. This faith receives the whole mind of God, and has a due respect to every part of his counsel, when made known to the subject. The language of this grace is, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? It never selects some and rejects other parts of God's will. This grace never wishes any doctrines expressly contained in the Bible, to have been left out. No; as far as it knows the mind of God, so far it obeys. It is a truth to be lamented, that education directs too much the practice of many in the world; but where the voice of this grace is attended to, the person receives the truth in the love of it. The apostle had no exception to any part of the revealed will of God. When he was before Felix, he said, "But this I confess unto thee, that after the way, which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things, which are written in the law and the prophets, and have hope towards God -- that there shall be a resurrection, both of the just and unjust," Acts xxiv. 14, 15. Here is the distinguishing property of this grace, "believing all things." Whether acceptable or not to the Jews or Gentiles, yet his faith believed all things written in the law or prophets, and his hope was according to his faith. The Psalmist could say, "Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments," Psalm cxix. 6. Has the Lord requested us to take up our cross and follow him; then, says faith, I will confess him before men. The true Christian is pleased with the whole counsel of God; the way in which he walks is a straight and narrow way, but it is as wide as faith wishes it. Christ is to the unbeliever, a stone of stumbling and rock of offence; but to the believing soul, he is altogether lovely and precious.
2. This faith is not dead and fruitless, it will not allow men to live in sinful ways. The doctrines of grace may be abused to lasciviousness and all manner of ungodliness; but the work of God in the soul, cannot produce such effects. There are many vain talkers in the world, who walk after their own lusts, and speak much of salvation by Christ, and walk according to the course of this world; but where this precious grace is communicated, it is as fire in the soul, which will produce works meet to repentance; hence says the apostle, "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision: but faith which worketh by love," Gal. v. 6. There is a faith which works not at all, or it works either out of fear of punishment, or with a view of reward; but this divine grace, which is peculiar to the regenerate, obeys out of love. If there was neither heaven nor hell, the true believer would wish to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. We are taught to pray that the will of God may be done on earth as it is done in heaven, and this is the case when all our obedience flows from love. It is then we serve the Lord our God as the angels in heaven, when all our works originate from love, and our souls are humbled in us, because we serve him no better; we find that when we would do good, evil is present with us, but this leads us to make Christ our all in all.
3. Another distinguishing property, or mark of this grace, is to be dead to the law with respect to our dependence on works for justification before God: we see that all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags after regeneration, as well as before. The apostle said, "Yea, doubtless, I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord," Phil. iii. 8. Faith can bear no other recommendation to God, but the atoning blood of the blessed Jesus: it can admit of no other righteousness, but that which God imputes unto us without works, even the righteousness of the Lamb of God, which can justify us from all things, from which we never could be justified by the law of Moses. Hence we may see that all lega1, conditional preaching, is wounding to the souls of true believers, and can answer no other purpose than to support the hope of hypocrites; but when Jesus is represented as bleeding and dying on the cross, to atone for our sins, our languishing hope is quickened, and the soul says, "The life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me," and, O amazing to express! "gave himself for me." The language of faith is, now I can venture into the eternal world, when I behold my bleeding Lord, as the way of acceptance into divine favor. "'Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none on earth that I desire besides thee!"
Dearly beloved, we have briefly endeavored to explain what we mean by saving faith, and have given some of the distinguishing properties or marks of it; and it has been with this view, to alarm the formalist, and refresh the soul of the sincere, humble Christian, as well as to detect all vain talkers, whose faith is not productive of works agreeable to the gospel of Christ. If you can say, "Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief;" remember that full assurance is not essential to the being of this grace; and little faith is always attended with fear and doubting. Let the disciple's prayer be yours, "Lord, increase our faith." By it the elders obtained a good report; and as you are partakers of like precious faith, endeavor to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called, and " add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love; for if these things be in you, and abound, they will make you to be neither barren, nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: to whom be glory in the church throughout all ages." Amen.
We remain your brethren in the fellowship of the gospel.
Signed, by order of the Association,
SAMUEL JONES, Moderator. THOMAS USTICK, Clerk.
[From Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1788. - jrd]
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