The elders and messengers of the several churches met in Association at Philadelphia, October 6th, 1789.
To the several churches in union with this Association, send greeting.
Dearly beloved, - Inasmuch as our divine Lord and Master has been pleased, in his infinite mercy, to furnish us with the means of grace, for our furtherance and growth therein; and for the declarative glory of his great and holy name; and as one of these means is the assembling of ourselves together, our predecessors have wisely instituted this annual Association of the churches; that by hearing of the welfare of each other, conferring together upon difficult matters, admonishing, and exhorting to steadfastness in the faith, and addressing each other upon the important doctrines of grace; the Redeemer's cause and interest might be promoted in the world, and Zion built up upon the foundation laid in the gospel. In pursuance of this, in our circular letters, we have addressed you upon those essential doctrines of divine truth; and, for connection sake, have followed the order in which they are treated in our Confession of faith: That which comes next in succession, is Repentance unto life and salvation.
1. By repentance, in general, we understand, sorrow or pain arising from a retrospective view of any action or circumstance, in which we have been agents, which is contrary to, either the dictates of conscience, the word of God; that from whence we see any evil consequences accruing to ourselves, or that which is evil in its own nature, and which is increased in proportion to the light and evidence we have thereof. This repentance may be considered in a two-fold point of view, generally known by the appellations of evangelical and legal. This distinction the apostle seems to have had an eye to, in 2 Corinthians vii, 10, where he tells us, "That godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of; but the sorrow of the world worketh death." This is indeed implied when we speak of repentance unto salvation, since its distinguishing characteristic, presupposes that there is a repentance which is not unto salvation.
2. The repentance which is not unto life and salvation, or, what is generally denominated, mere legal repentance, originates in self-love, terminates in the fear of future punishment, or penal evil; and is but a transient view of that legal condemnation which is the consequence of sin: but never leads the soul to the gospel refuge. Hence, if any reformation is effected, it finally terminates in apostacy: Agreeable to the apostle's assertion, 2 Peter ii, 22; "But it hath happened unto them, according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire."
3. Repentance, which is unto life and salvation, has God for its Author; and does not arise from the power of free-will, or the dictates of a natural conscience; but from the grace of God as the efficient, and operation of the divine Spirit as the impulsive cause; without which no means, as judgments, mercies, or the most powerful ministry, of themselves can effect. It is produced in the soul by divine illumination, through which we are led to see something of the nature and perfections of God, the holiness of the divine law, and the strictness of justice. Romans vii. 9, "But when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." Hence a discovery of the evil and accursed nature of sin, the pollution and defilement of nature, and the state of condemnation into which the soul is involved. The person is now filled with shame and confusion of face; with sorrow and contrition of soul. He views his heart as a cage of unclean birds, as a nest of pollution and sink of iniquity: and conceives himself to be the most hell-deserving, as well as undeserving of God's creatures, and is made to adopt that lamentable complaint, "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint." This godly sorrow and repentance for sin, is not excited merely from a view of the demerits of sin, of its evil consequences to the soul, or a fear of hell and damnation: but on account of the evil that is in sin; its contrariety to a holy God. He mourns that he has offended God, wounded Christ, and grieved the holy Spirit. It farther produces an ingenuous confession of sin, and forsaking it, in bringing forth fruits meet for repentance in life and conversation.
This is not called repentance unto salvation, as being the cause of salvation, or condition of it; for Christ alone is the fulfiller of the conditions: and, therefore to fit his people for the enjoyment of it, he hath sent forth his Spirit into their hearts, to convince "of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment;" to beget evangelical repentance in them; a hatred to sin, and a turning from it to God. Agreeably to which, it is said, Matthew i. 21, "Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins." But it is said to be unto salvation, as itself is a blessing of salvation and a part of it; an evidence of an interest in it, and terminates in the full enjoyment of it.
This repentance is wrought in the hearts of God's people, as above, in order to their sanctification, that they may be qualified to enjoy the heavenly inheritance.
4. Again, as the Christian experiences the inherence of sin as long as he lives, "for there is none that liveth and sinneth not," though freed from the reigning power and dominion of sin; so he has continued reason to exercise the grace of repentance, and humble himself under every transgression in particular, as well as the remains of corruption in general. Such was the exercise of the apostle, Romans vii. 24, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death." Thus is the Christian continually, while in the exercise of grace, aspiring after holiness, and mourning over his depravity. His sanctification is carried on, and will finally be accomplished, when he shall be admitted into the mansions of eternal blessedness and ineffable glory; "where all sorrow and sighing shall flee away;" - where there shall be no more sin, and consequently no need of repentance or sorrow, for the Lord our God "shall wipe away all tears from our eyes."
Thus, dearly beloved, have we endeavored to consider repentance unto life and salvation, according to the gospel sense of the doctrine. May the great Head of his church, through the influence of the divine Spirit, give us a humbling view of all our imperfections, that we may live to the honor of his great name, and ascribe all the glory of our salvation to the riches of his grace, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Oliver Hart, Moderator. William Vanhorn, Clerk. ==========
[From Philadelphia Association Minutes, 1789. - jrd]
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