The elders and messengers of the several churches met in Association, in the city of Philadelphia, October 2d, 1792.
To the churches in union with this Association, send greeting.
Dearly beloved brethren, -- According to the course of our order, the subject of our circular letter, this year, is the assurance of grace and salvation. Confession of faith, Chap. XVIII.
This is a subject of very great importance, with which all true Christians are concerned, and, perhaps, for the most part, make the matter of their most serious inquiry. It is, therefore, very obvious that it requires to be discussed with the greatest care, whereby it may tend to minister some revival of hope to the doubting Ch1istian, and that the joy of faith may be increased in those that are of a higher attainment; while, at the same time, the nominal professor may be detected and convinced of his delusion.
In order to attempt something for the illustration of this very important article, several particulars are to be considered; as
First, That there are degrees in this grace of assurance, as well as in other graces of the Spirit. Divine revelation, and the experience of all ages, make it abundantly manifest, that there are some, who from a deep sense of their own sinfulness, together with the weak exercise of their graces, cannot help hesitating respecting their own interest in the great salvation that is in Christ; but yet they have such expectation of obtaining salvation by him, as bears them up from falling into despair. The true Christian views his own sins in their own colors, and they appear, attended with their several aggravations, horrid and detestable in his view; and he finds, by sad experience, that there is a body of sin and pollution in his nature, so that he cannot well tell how a gracious change in his heart can consist with so much sin and defilement; yet he would endeavor to conclude with the Psalmist, lxv. 4, "iniquities prevail against me: as for our transgressions thou shalt purge them away." The believer has a view, though it be weak, to the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness; and it is from this source he draws all comforts, that his sins are pardoned; and this confidence, though weak, enables him to look unto Jesus, whom he hath pierced with his sins, and hope that there is healing virtue in his blood; so that he rests his soul upon it, as that alone that can cleanse him from all sin. Though all this may not amount to a full assurance, that his state god-ward is good, yet he would not exchange it for all that the world could give him in lieu thereof.
Second. We are to consider that this grace of assurance is attainable in this life, not only in extraordinary cases, such as martyrdom, and under some other very difficult cases that some may be called to; but also in the common course of the dispensation of grace; for it may be justly observed, that every true Christian may and has a just right to conclude that his state God-ward is a state of peace, were it not for the remainder of unbelief that cleaves unto him; but this is what prevents it: and where this is done away and overcome, the Christian may say with holy Job, "I know that my Redeemer liveth;" and with the apostle, "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me," Gal. ii. 29. And again, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain," Phil, i. 21. It is abundantly evident from divine revelation, that the grace of assurance in this life is attainable.
1. Because that it appears to be the privilege of believers in common; for this see 1 Cor. ii. 12, "For we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we may know the things that are freely given us of God." Here we see the apostle addresses these Corinthian believers, that they were interested in the same grace of assurance in common with himself; and in the first Epistle of John v. 20, "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true; even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life." There is such provision made for it, so that the heirs of glory might have an undoubted hope of enjoying it. For this see Heb. vi. 17, 18, 19, "Wherein God willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise, the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us. Which hope we have as an anchor to the soul, both sure and steadfast, which entereth into that within the veil." And moreover, it is spoken of as something blamable in Christians, that they do not know their union with Christ, 2 Cor. xiii. 5, "Know ye not your owns elves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?"
2. It appears that assurance is attainable in the present state of things, because it is inculcated upon us, to use diligence to make our calling and election sure. And were it not attainable, we conclude that so interesting a point would not be enjoined us; but it appears that is not the case. And it appears that those that live in a nearness to God in their affection of love, incline to keep his word practically, and the more we are in this salutary employment, there is a motive annexed, that is infinitely beyond the merit of our doing; for there is a promise to the disciples of Christ, to such as love him, and keep his word, that the Father and the Son will come and make their abode with them, by which we are to understand, that it means a manifestation of his fatherly love, and receive more of the Spirit of adoption, whereby they are, enabled to cry, Abba, Father. From hence it appears that those Christians that live in a nearness to God in their love and affections, have, for the most part, the clearest discovery of his love. But yet --
Thirdly. There is another particular to be inquired into; that is, the source and efficient cause from whence this full assurance of hope doth proceed, and that is the Spirit of God. Hence it is said, "that the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God," Rom. viii. 16. It is said "the Spirit itself." Now when it is said, that a person doth something himself, it is to be understood, that he doth it not by another, or by a deputy; so that we are to understand, that it is the Holy Spirit that is the sole efficient cause of a Christian's having a clear manifestation of his interest in Christ; and this cannot be attained unto, without the witness of the Spirit. Here it may be inquired, how the Spirit doth witness? In answer to this, we are to consider what our Lord says concerning the Spirit, as we read in John xvi. 14. Our Lord, speaking there of the Spirit, says, "He shall g1orify me, for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you." By which we are to understand, that it is owing to the influence of the Holy Spirit, that any Christian is enabled to behold the sufficiency that is in the blood of Christ to cleanse from all sins, and make an appropriation of it to himself; and the Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, which is very comprehensive, and includes in it not only comfort, but strength, light, and joy; because his assurance of hope is upon the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, and to behold that there is forgiveness of sins through his blood, and that now all are "justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses." It must be observed, that the Spirit witnessing by the word of grace, enables the soul to appropriate those great and precious promises to himself, by virtue of the witness of the Spirit itself, with our spirit, that we are the children of God. But here may arise a very serious inquiry, how may a believer know that it is the Spirit of God and not the spirit of delusion? We shall say no more, in answer to this, than that the Spirit itself can and will resolve it to his own children by his own powerful efficacy. Much might be said on this head, but brevity forbids us to enlarge.
Fourthly. We are to consider that the faith of assurance is not the essence of the faith of reliance, for the lowest degree must be attained before the highest, for the sealing of the Spirit comes after believing, and not always upon believing, for there are little children in this grace as well as strong men; for in our regeneration, we are to conclude that every grace of the Spirit, that is inseparably connected with salvation, is implanted in the heart of every true believer, though they may be weakly exercised by the sincere Christian. The conversion of some is more obvious than of some others, both to themselves and to their fellow Christians, and the Spirit may sweetly breathe on them his own impression, and the comforts derived therefrom; so that he that has only the faith of reliance, has some degree of appropriation; and yet not being clear of being beclouded, and of uncomfortable doubts prevailing in his breast, -- so as yet he loves, and wonders at the stupendous love, wisdom, and faithfulness of God, in laying "help on One who is mighty to save," and therefore he leans upon him for life and salvation, -- and yet those that have the faith of reliance, it is of that nature that it tends to purify the heart, and overcome the world; so that the soul is brought to an humble submission to the will of God, and beholds that there is no salvation in any other, and is enabled to rejoice that it is even so, and concludes, that this is all his hope. Although his sins appear to him of the deepest dye, yet he hopes to find mercy through the atoning blood of Jesus, because that it is revealed in the word of grace that it was to this end Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, the chief of sinners. Let it be observed, that if a Christian, whose faith amounts to no higher than that of affiance -- if he discovers in himself one link of the precious chain of salvation, he upon the best grounds may conclude, that he has the whole; for there is not one soul, that shall perish, that has one of the saving graces of the Spirit, but then one is never alone; and that the Spirit of God may withhold the shinings of his face upon the operation that he hath wrought upon the heart of the believer, that relies on the merits of Christ for salvation -- and the believer may walk in darkness, as to the comfortable manifestation of everlasting love; for we find that this has been the case with some of God's dear children: and hence it is that such go mourning all the day; and this has been the case with some that had great nearness to God, and intimacy with him, as we may see in the 51st Psalm. It comes to pass commonly in consequence of their departing from God by sin, which was the case with the Psalmist, and in consequence of it their faith is shaken, and their assurance intermitted, and yet in regard of their secret state God-ward, it is a state of peace -- it is immovable and immutable, and the union subsisting, never can be dissolved. But,
Fifthly. We are to consider that there is such a thing as false hope, and counterfeit assurance; and this we are to guard against as one of the most pernicious evils that may befall the human mind. But by thus observing, we do not mean to discourage you, dear brethren, from appropriating to yourselves the riches of divine grace, and an assurance of an eternal weight of glory. But there is such a similarity between a sincere Christian and a nominal one, as there is between wheat and tares in the blade, which teaches us that a close inspection ought to be exercised by every one of us, whether we have in possession a vital principle of true religion. For the holy Scriptures hold forth unto us that many will be deceived at last, and meet a dreadful overthrow, by reason of building on a false foundation -- as we may see in Matt. vii, 22, 23. So that it is not every one that says he has an assurance of faith, who really hath it. And the apostle saith, "If a man thinketh himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself," Gal. vi. 3; and a great many passages of holy writ might be adduced to prove this awful truth. But we proceed finally, to point out the great utility of the grace of assurance of hope, to those that have it, during their pilgrimage here on earth.
1. It enables them to submit, with cheerfulness, to adverse dispensations, upon the account that they are enabled to believe that their heavenly Father does every thing for good to them that love him.
2. Full assurance of hope enables them to believe whatever God is pleased to reveal concerning himself, because that there is now a greater nearness to God than heretofore, and the more knowledge the believer has of God, the more acquaintance he has with himself, whereby he is made to behold his own impotence and ignorance; for until such time as the believer attains to some degree of assurance, carnal reason will retard his progress in the exercise of faith, particularly in some points that are beyond his rational comprehension. For the more assurance the believer attains unto, the more carnal reason is overcome; and therefore forms a just idea of the infinite disproportion that is between him and that Infinite Being in whom he confides. Believing that God's proceedings with all his creatures, are in infinite wisdom, justice and holiness; and that the Judge of the whole earth will do right; and this is one great means whereby the children of God are kept from apostatizing from the great fundamental articles of the Christian faith; and for want of which many in the present day run into such extremes of error, in turning the true meaning of the sacred Scriptures, in those very essential articles of the Christian faith, contrary to the very literal meaning of them. This comes to pass by leaning too much on their own carnal wisdom and judgment -- so they conclude that God has a different meaning from what his word conveys, and that impenitent sinners shall pass with impunity. From such errors as drown the wicked in perdition, those that have a well founded hope are finally preserved.
3. The grace or assurance will be of the greatest use in our last conflict with death, knowing that Christ has taken away the sting of death, and that death itself will be destroyed; so that the assured Christian is made to rejoice, that he has no cause to fear that any ill consequence will attend his exit out of time into eternity; and it enables him not only to submit to, but also to obey, with cheerfulness, the messenger his heavenly Father sends; being confident, upon good grounds, that he will be admitted into the society of "the spirits of just men made perfect," and so ever be with the Lord; where the weary are at perfect rest, and the wicked forever cease from troubling. The assurance of this is a prelibation or a foretaste of that heavenly glory that awaits all the children of God in a coming world.
Dear brethren, let these things sink deep into your hearts, whereby ye may be found in the lively exercise of every grace, and in the faithful discharge of every duty; and be enabled, with patience, to run the race that is set before you, "still looking to Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith."
Now, unto him who is able to keep you from falling, and present you faultless before the presence of his glory, with exceeding joy. To the only wise God, our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever." Amen.
Signed by order of the Association,
ISAAC SKILLMAN, Moderator. BURGISS ALLISON, Clerk. ===============
[From Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1792. - jrd]
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