[Editor's note: The fs are changed to ss in this document for easier reading. All other grammar and spelling remain unchanged.]
Minutes of the Virginia Portsmouth Baptist Association
meeting Holden at Black-Creek Meeting-House,
Southampton county, May 5 &c, 1793.
CIRCULAR LETTER, 1793
By David Barrow, Pastor
Mill Swamp Baptist Church
Ille of Wight, Virginia
Dearly beloved in the Lord.
Being assembled from different parts of this District, in full and free Council, and having enjoyed several Days Conference, in Peace and Love, (from an Order of last Association) think it best this year, in our address to you, to enlarge a little on that important Doctrine of God's Election of his People in Christ, and the rather, as this comfortable Doctrine has for several Years past met with fierce opposition, from the preachers and propagators of the popular scheme; who have made it a point, either to ridicule its Friends, deny it altogether, or hold it such a sense as is totally inconsistent with the holy Scriptures; but however pleasing the popular Doctrine may be, to the itching Ears of the Multitude in these our last times, or may flatter the Pride of those who wish to have the Honor of being the beginers of their own Salvation: We trust our dear Brethren you will stick closely by, and ever approve those wholesome Doctrines which have their Foundation in the Holy Word, however unfashionable and seemingly inconsistent, to an ignorant world.
As this Doctrine has its Foundation only in divine Revelation, you must remember, it will not answer to shut the Eyes of your Faith, and only open the Ear of your reasoning Faculty to this mysterious and sublime Mystery; - Not that we would insinuate, that Reason is of no use to the Christian; but that in its Providence it ought modestly to be exercised, but it should always be in strict subordination to Faith in divine Revelation. If this is not the case, there are several clearly revealed Mysteries, that will have no Place in the Christian Creed.
And as we hope you are, and ever will remain strict Scripturists, we humbly take up this subject, hoping it will not be unacceptable to you, nor our readers in general.
The Manner we shall treat upon it, is as follows. 1. We will produce the scripture Authorities for it. 2. Set before you the objects of it. 3. The manner, or way, that God has revealed himself as acting in this Business. 4. The use of this Doctrine to Christians and others.
1st. We are to produce the Scripture authorities for it. And first. We find an account of an elect, or (Chosen) Psalm 89:19. "Then thou speaketh in vision to thy holy one, and saidst, I have laid Help upon one that is mighty: I have exalted one chosen out of the People. Isaiah 42:1, Behold, my servant whom I uphold, mine Elect in whom my Soul delighteth; &c. I Peter 2:6. Whereof also it is contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner Stone, precious. Isaiah 45.4. For Jacob my Servant's sake, and Israel mine Elect I have called thee by thy Name: I have sirnamed thee, though thou hast not known. And 65:9. And I will bring forth a Seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my Mountains: and mine Elect, shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there. Verse 22. And mine Elect shall long enjoy the work of their Hands. Matthew 24:22. But for the Elects sake those days shall be shortened; Also see Mark 13:20 and 22. To seduce, if it were possible, even the Elect. Verse the 27. And shall gather together his Elect, &c. Luke 18:7. And shall not God avenge his own Elect, &c. Romans 8:33. Who shall lay any thing to the Charge of God's Elect? Colossians 3:12. put on therefore as the Elect of God, &c. I Timothy 5:21. And the Elect Angels, &c. 2 Timothy 2:10. Therefore I endure all things for the Elect's sakes. Titus 1:1 Paul a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the Faith of God's Elect, &c. I Peter 1:2. Elect according to the Foreknowledge of God the Father, &c. 2 John 1 The elder to the Elect Lady, and her Children whom I love in the Truth; Verse the 13. The children of thy Elect Sister greet thee. I Peter 5:13. The church that is at Babylon, Elected together with you, &c. Romans 9:11 That the purpose of God according to Election might stand, &c. And 11:5 Even so then at this present time also there is a Remnant, according to the Election of Grace. Verse the 7. But the Election hath obtained it. Verse the 28, But as touching the Election, they are beloved for the Father's sakes. I Thessalonians 4. Knowing Brethren beloved, your Election of God. Ephesians 1:4. According as he hath chosen us in him before the Foundation of the World, &c. 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Because God hath from the Beginning Chosen you to Salvation, through Sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the Truth. I Peter 2:9. But ye are a chosen generation, &c. Revelation 17:14. "And they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful."
From all which passages, and many more that might be produced, it is evident that Election, (let opposers say what they may,) is a Bible Doctrine.
II. We shall set before you the objects of it. And 1st. Jesus Christ was from Eternity elected, or chosen, of God the Father, to the office of Mediator. Isaiah 42:1, Psalm 89:19. I Peter 2:6. (as above quoted,) compared with Proverbs 8:22, 23, 24, 25, 26.
2d. Angles [sic] have been Objects of God's Choice, or election, I Timothy 5:21. For we judge it would be hard to account for the final apostacy of any of them, but upon this Principle, Namely: Their standing alone in their own created innocence unconnected with, or their not being chosen in Christ Jesus, the great head of all Things.
3d. Men have been the Objects of God's choice or election, to Eternal Life in Christ Jesus according to the foregoing Quotations; if otherwise it will be hard to determine why the Race of Adam, are not all saved or all lost, seeing all are alike "fallen and come short of the Glory of God:" therefore divine Revelation must guide us in this Matter, which attributes all to free electing Grace; and should we leave this heavenly Pilot, there is no knowing where we shall land.
4th. Nations have been the Subjects of God's Election, witness the Israelites who were God's chosen and peculiar People, see Deuteronomy 7:6, 7, 8. Also Isaiah 65:9. More might be added if needful.
5th. Men have been chosen or Elected of God to particular offices, instance in the Case of Moses, Aaron, Saul, David, Judas Iscariot, and many others.
6th. Things have been chosen of God in preference to others, see Isaiah 58:6. Is not this the Fast that I have chosen? to loose the Bands of Wickedness, &c.
7th. Places also have been the object of his Choice or Election, 2 Chronicles 6:38.
III. The Manner, or Way, that God has revealed himself as acting in this business is next to be considered.
1st. It was as a Sovereign Lord, "who gives not account of any of his Matters." Job 33:13. In which Wisdom, Justice, Goodness, Holiness, Mercy, Truth and Love, display their matchless perfections to the humble and believing Eye. See Romans 9, the whole Chapter. Matthew 11:25, 26. Acts 13:48. But we expect to be told by the Adversaries of this Doctrine, that what is contained in Romans the 9th is altogether a national affair; but we briefly answer them thus: That the same being who has a right to act in the one case as he pleases, has in the other; for "He that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much," Luke 16:10. And those who have the Boldness to twist, and torture divine Revelation and make it say what they please, and charge God foolishly, in the one case, do it in effect, in the other; for we ask why God, as an alwise Being may not be allowed the Prerogative of Predetermining the eternal States of Angels and Men, with as much Justice and Goodness as he doth the affairs of this Life? If it shou'd be said, that the disproportion between this Life, and that to come, bears no comparison, and that it matters not so much if God does deal a little severely with his creatures here; provided, he will give them a chance for Salvation hereafter. To which we reply, this is but of the same piece; for if a little severity or cruelty may be exercised by the Supreme Being more may with the same Equity; therefore we cite such objections, to the before quoted gospel Maxim, "He that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much." The conclusion then is, If god had a Right to act as a Sovereign in national affairs, (which none have denied,) by the same Parity of reasoning, he must have been competent to and had, and has the same right in eternal affairs.
2d. It was in Christ Jesus, "who is the Head of all Principality and Power." Colossians 2:10. "By whom also he made the Worlds." Hebrews 1:2. "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the World." Ephesians 1:4. Also read, Verses 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. And without multiplying Proofs, you will observe the Phrases, In him i.e. (Christ Jesus,) Through him, to him, by him, and for him, frequently occur in the divine writings, which certainly is to teach us, that God the Father, as an incomprehensible being, has ever thought fit to reveal himself to angels and men, as in close union with the adorable object and his eternal love, Christ Jesus, in whom he loved, elected, created, has and does reveal himself to his People in all Ages, calls, preserves, and glorifies all both Angels and
Men who shall enjoy eternal happiness, in whom alone is their safe standing, and access to God the Father, and Channel through which every blessing flows, to both Saints, and Sinners in this World. "Whom he hath appointed heir of all things." Hebrews 1:2. And to be as modest as may be, we humbly think, that those who deny this fundamental Doctrine, are under the influence of the Spirit of Antichrist; for it appears that such in substance, "deny that Jesus Christ is come in the Flesh." I John 4:3. For it must be owned that here is the dividing point, between the popular and gospel schemes of salvation, as is stated Romans 11:6. By the Apostle himself. "And if by Grace, then is it no more of Work: otherwise Grace is no more of Grace. But if it be of Works, then it is no more Grace: otherwise Work is no more Work." - We call it the popular scheme, in contradistinction to the gospel plan; because it is calculated to flatter the Pride, and fit the Taste of the Populace, who like to hear them best, and cry up that Doctrine most, that sets proud Nature in the highest Seat. Upon the whole, we are ready to think, that it is likely, this Doctrine will ever fare with the Multitude, or Populace, as did the Person of its blessed author, viz. Never be generally liked of by a degenerate World; nor be much insisted upon, by Preachers who have an Itch for general applause; whose main business is, to shape all their Principles, Doctrines and Practices, as near as they possibly can, (confident with any shew of truth,) to the prevailing Spirit of the Times.
3d. Before we leave the subject, it may not be amiss to treat a little of the Time this Business was transacted by God the Father, as revealed to us in the Holy Scripture. And here you may note, it was not when Adam was in the Garden of Eden, nor after he was expelled, nor at the Time, or after a Soul believes in Jesus Christ; nor we make light of Faith, Repentance, Holiness, &c. But consider those blessed Graces highly necessary in their Places; and look upon them as precious Fruits and effects of our election in Christ Jesus; but by no means the causes thereof, either in whole, or in part: for this Choice was made before the Foundation of the World, and consequently our existence, from which it is evident there could be no good Qualification in Men to influence his Choice. Ephesians 1:14. Matthew 25:34. 2 Timothy 1:9. All which may teach us, that it was at as early a date as the setting
up the son of God to the office of Mediator, which was from Everlasting. - Proverbs 8:23. Now if he was, and is, "Head over all things to the Church." Ephesians 1:22. and 4:15. Colossians 1:18 and 2:19. Then it follows, that whenever he was set apart, or became such a Head, he must have a Body, suitable thereto, with all its members compleat in as real a manner as he was then Head; or else he would have been a monster. A Head without a Body, which cannot exist. The truth then is, as we conceive it to be held forth in holy Scripture to us; that previous to the Downfall of Angels, or men, god with whom all Things were present, did wisely, and freely choose or elect in Christ Jesus, the Great Head of all Things, a certain Number of Angels and Men to eternal Life, without any regard to their future good, or bad actions; as moving him in Choice: the rest both Angels and Men, he left in their created innocence to stand, on that Foundation unconnected with Jesus Christ the living Head. Things taken in this point of view, and the Golden Chain of God's proceeding, with the many links thereof duly considered, as revealed in holy scripture, we conceive clears the Almighty of those blasphemous imputations laid against him, (on account of eternal election,) by the evermerciful zealot of the popular scheme; and only leaves them this Question to harp upon: Namely, seeing God foreknew all Things; for this plain Reason: Because he has never taught us in his Word, why he chose to act in this Manner. However, We can say in God's behalf, as much as the House-holder did in the gospel for himself: Matthew 20: 13, 15. "Friends I do thee no Wrong. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?"
IV. We proceed lastly to shew the use of this Doctrine to Christians, and others.
1st. It is useful to Christian to mortify their Pride, and put them in mind of the Source from whence they derived all their Happiness; for they may justly say, when tempted with self conceit. "Who maketh thee to differ from another? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive. Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?["] I Corinthians 4:7. "But God commendeth
His Love towards us, in that while we were Sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8. Verse the 10. "For if, when we were Enemies we were reconciled to God by the Death of his Son; much more being reconciled, we shall be saved by his Life."
2nd. It may be useful to the Christian to excite his Wonder, Love and Praise to God who has thus distinguished him as a monument of his Love, and Sovereign Goodness, when so many of his Betters, (or at least his Equals,) in virtue and goodness, are left in ignorance and under the Slavery of their own Lusts. "Held in the snare of the Devil, who are taken captive by him at his will." 2 Timothy 2:26. If we be Christians, "We love him (it is true,) but it is because he first loved us." I John 4:19. - If any considerations will serve to humble, and to excite praise, it must be such as these.
3rd. It is of use to Christians, as a Touch-Stone, or Standard, by which they may distinguish the Preachers of the popular Scheme, from those who hold and maintain the gospel plan; for although, ignorant and inattentive Hearers, can see no difference between the one and the other, (for provided virtue and morality are insisted on, all is good Doctrine to such, the Man (say they) gave very good advice; but the rightly instructed Christian by this Rule, may easily make the Distinction, and see the difference. For after all the art that has been used to blend these two plans together, so as to make one out of them both, to fit proud nature, it never has been, and we conceive, (consistent with scripture) never can be done. For here is the Point on which controversy turns: to wit. "And if by Grace, then is it no more of Works: otherwise Grace is no more Grace. But if it be of Works, then it is no more Grace: otherwise Work is no more Work." Romans 11:6. In short thus. If you will admit of grace in the first instance; where will you find Room for human Works? But if you will make room for them, in Point of our acceptance with God: then is it no more grace; for if it be by works, either in whole or in part; then you confound the idea of Grace, and blend both together, destroy the apostolic distinction and make confusion. - To sum up all in one Sentence. We are accepted of God wholly by an act of grace, "Given us in Christ Jesus, before the World began." 2 Timothy 1:9.
Titus 1:2. Or wholely [sic] by our own works; this must be true, seeing a mixture cannot be made.
4th. It is useful to the Christian considering it one of his precious Pearls. Matthew 7:6. "Give not that which is holy unto Dogs, neither cast ye your Pearles before Swine, &c." The Christian may hoard up, "ponder and keep this among other divine Mysteries in his heart," as a Part of his sacred Treasure, Luke 2:19. Yet ought to be cautious how he use it, or to whom he shews it. - For although we are free to say, that we humbly believe, it is impossible to write a good book on divinity or preach a gospel sermon, without it stands on or lies in close connection with this evangelical Truth; - yet we think it extremely imprudent, in weak Christians, and unexperienced Preachers to be dipping into this sublime Doctrine, without being able rightly to state it, or clear it from the malicious attacks of its adversaries. And for a farther caution to such, we cite them to Isaiah 39:4. For although King Hezekiah, was a pious man, his zeal in such a case carried him too far. Namely. Vaingloriously, to shew to the uncircumcised Babylonians all his "Treasures." And again. We are told in express terms, I Corinthians 2:14. "But the Natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are Foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. - Take Notice. "The natural man." Or he that is governed by a man pleasing Spirit cannot know, or own this Flash [Flesh] mortifying Doctrine. The reason is clear; because it is only discerned, (viz. experimentally) through the Spirit of God speaking to us in holy Scripture: For there are many, if they hold the Doctrine at all; hold it such a sense, as will only accord with the popular Plan; or in other words, to render it acceptable to all Mankind in a natural state, which is as far from right, as East from West: for we are told by our Lord himself, Luke 16:15. "That which is highly esteemed amongst men is Abomination in the sight of God." Others hold Predestination, in the old heatheninsh [sic], or pagan Notion of it, making blind "Taste, or destiny govern all Things," without any conception of Jesus Christ, the great "Head of all Principality and Power;" by, in, and through whom alone, God the Father, has ever thought fit to reveal himself as acting in this Business, as well as all the rest of his divine operations. - Others there are again, who maintain it in the antinomian Way. i.e. insist that the Elect are safe
and will be eternally happy without any regard to their being effectually called, regenerated, sanctified, &c. All which schemes, we humbly conceive derogatory to divine revelation; - and yet the Abettors of each scheme, have much to say in behalf of their favorite Plan; at least, enough to confound the weal Christian. - So that we rather advise him, not to cast it too freely out, or expose it to vulgar eyes, "lest they trample it among other Rubbish, and turn and rent him."
5th. This Doctrine may be of use to the Christian, to teach him Moderation, and Forebearance towards the opposers of this revealed Truth, because he may easily reflect that Time has been, he himself, could not endure it; nor even those who did: because in his idea, it rendered God unjust! and made Man too small; even reduced him to a Machine: - but Revelation and Experience, those best of Teachers, have since taught him to know, that he was but "Clay in the hand of the Supreme Potter, who works all things according to the Council of his own will; to whom none can say with propriety, what doest thou?" for if he turns to his Bible, he finds those sacred Pages full of that God exalting Man, humbling Truth, among several other important Doctrines, equally inconsistent to the notions of the natural Man so that if he gives one of those exploded Doctrines, by the same rule, he may another, and so on till he must renounce the holy Scripture all together, and at once give into the cause of Infidelity, and plunge with a head long crowd, into the Seas of uncertainty, without either a Compass, or Pilot. If he examines his experience, he well remembers what an ignorant, proud, self-willed base, Creature he was, and still is, "after the Flesh," and this gospel Plan of Redemption through Christ, he naturally opposed; and has all the Reason in the World to believe still should; had he not been taught it "by the Revelation of Jesus." Therefore those Considerations lead to Humility and Forebearance towards the Opposers of this Doctrine; considering that when God deals with them in a Sovereign Way, and reveals themselves to themselves; as he has in some good Measure dealt with him he knows, humanly speaking, they will be humbled, and
andbrought cordially to own this Flesh-mortifying and God-Exalting Doctrine.
6th. It is of use to Mankind in general, when rightly viewed and considered. -
For it may lead Men universally to the consideration of a great Truth, that even Kings, Generals, Parliaments, Legislatures, and the great Ones of the Earth, as well as others, should be well instructed in. Namely. That the All-Mighty Lord of all Things, asketh no favours at their Hands; seeing he is justly, and by right the Ruler of the Universe, and that it is by this divine Appointment, or Predetermination, and not their own Merit, or Exertions that they are what they are. For if it may be allowed; (and we do no remember, that it has been denied by Men of Sense,) that God foreknew all things exactly from eternity, with their causes, and different effects, (also what men call Contentious, or Accidents: - though there are no one such with him!) Now if all Things were known of God as they invariably come to pass, through all Eternity, the Result is; They could not be so foreknown of him, if they could, might, or may, otherwise come to pass. So that upon the whole; if his complete Foreknowledge of all Things is confessed; it ought with the same parity of Reasoning also to be owned, that he is able, and of consequence can, predetermine all Things, with as much justice and equity as he foreknows all Things, as they invariably come to pass, through all eternity. - However, We hope we shall not be so understood, as to exclude the use of Means in any case whatever; nor on the other Hand, to idolize Means; for God is at Liberty to work by them, without them, above them, or against them at his divine Pleasure; though in common has seen fit to honor the timely, prudent, and humble use of them with a Blessing: - but by the way, it ought to be remembered, that he has not only prescribed in his written word, what Means he approves of, but by his Providence, &c. excites to such a use of them as may lead to an accomplishment of all good Ends; so that when happiness of any kind is enjoyed, all the Praise is his: when Evil is felt, the blame is justly on Angels, and Men as Creatures unprovokedly abusing primitive Liberty.
7th. It may be useful to others as well as Christians, in that it has a Tendency to kill them to the Law of works, to which they are so closely wedded by Nature. For there is nothing more natural, than for Men in a state of ignorance to think that they can, and ought in justice to do something for their injured Benefactor, to render him propitious, and put themselves in a state fit to be Saved by
Him, knowing they have greatly sinned, and acted out of their Duty towards him; which duty make[s] no doubt they can do when they please. viz. When they feel fit to repent and believe, which the Popular Preachers, tell them is the Conditions of the Gospel, and the undeniable Terms of Salvation and that there is no doubt lest these Prerequisitions are performed, all will be well; which nature teaches them fully?[blurred] to believe, and consequently sets them immediately to work on a legal Strain or prompts them to put off a disagreeable Business to some future Period. - Where as this Doctrine cuts the Throat of all their Idols, strips them of all their self-sufficiency, and lays them wounded, and bleeding in the Dust before the Lord. With this Cry in their Mouths, coming from their Hearts. "God be merciful to us Sinners."
And now dear Brethren, We hope you will excuse us for the Length of our Epistle: (and more especially,) as you will readily discover that the Copiousness of the subject required it. Upon the whole, "We commend you to God and Wor
ld of grace, who is able to keep you from falling, and to 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 Ever. Amen." Signed by JOHN MEGLAMRE, Moderator. WILLIAM BOYCE, Clerk. ===========
[From the Portsmouth, Virginia Baptist Association Minutes, 1793, pp. 7-17. The document is from the Virginia Historical Society Library and a copy was provided by Stephen W. Worrell. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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