The Philadelphia Baptist Association, convened at Philadelphia, the 6th, 7th, and 8th of October, 1795.
To the churches they represent, send Christian salutation.
Beloved Brethren, - Through the tender mercy of our God, we have had a comfortable meeting; for which we hope you will join us in thanksgiving.
Referring you to our minutes for information respecting our proceedings at this time, we pass on to the subject, on which, according to our course, we are now to address you. As we always, in our annual epistles, with fervent affection, aim at your instruction and edification, we hope our labor of love will ever be received and attended to with Christian benevolence, and that the effect will be, the building us up in our most holy faith.
The subject of our last address, was the Law - the next in order, in our most excellent Confession of faith, is the Gospel.
Between the Law and Gospel, there is a near connection; but, at the same time, a very material difference. The blending of these together, or treating of them in an injudicious and indistinct manner, has ever been a material source of error in the Christian church. It is, therefore, the more necessary to keep each of them in its proper place; and the rather on account, that a legal spirit is so natural to man, and a legal strain so difficult to be guarded against. Man is so naturally wedded to the Law, that he cannot easily be disengaged from it.
Would you know the difference between the Law and the Gospel? Only observe - the Law denounces wrath; the Gospel publishes peace; the Law convinces of guilt; the Gospel brings an acquittance; the Law pronounces sentence; the Gospel holds out a pardon; the Law requires satisfaction to the last mite; the Gospel discovers, that satisfaction has been made in full; the Law knows nothing of mercy; the Gospel knows nothing else: in the Law, righteousness, justice, and truth, shine gloriously; in the Gospel, love, grace, mercy, pity, condescension, and compassion do also shine, and with much more resplendent glory: commands, prohibitions, conditions, threatenings, penalties, &e., belong to the law; but, in the Gospel, these have no place. In the Gospel we find free grace, free mercy, free pardon ; faith and repentance are freely given, and, with them, a new heart, a new nature, new life, — all is new, all is free. The Gospel, as the word signifies, is good message, good news, glad tidings. The language of the angels at the birth of Christ, was, "Behold, we bring you glad tidings of great joy," Luke ii. 10. The angelic prophet Isaiah, in that memorable passage, applied by our blessed Lord to himself and the gospel day, Luke iv. 18, 19, breaks out in the following gospel strain: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison doors to them that are bound, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness," Isaiah lx. 1-3,
The Gospel is sometimes called the Gospel of the grace of God, Acts xx. 24, because it publishes the rich grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. Sometimes it is called the Gospel of salvation. Ephesians i. 13; Acts xiii. 26, because it brings to light the way of life and salvation provided of God for lost, perishing sinners. Sometimes the Gospel of peace, because it proclaims that glorious peace made by the peace-making blood of Christ; produces peace and tranquillity in distressed minds, makes men to be of a peaceable disposition, directs men to, and leads in the way of peace, and makes meet for eternal peace.
The Gospel brings glad tidings of good things; good things done for us; in that atonement is made for us, our debt paid, a righteousness wrought out, pardon and acceptance procured: good things wrought in us; such as regeneration, meetness for heaven, faith, hope, and every other grace; all the good things of providence and grace that are necessary for our present use during our passage through life; and finally, the good things of heaven itself, even all the glory and happiness of the beatific state. The Gospel, in fine, contains a discovery of all good things for time and eternity, in deliverance from sin and every evil, and the full enjoyment of every bliss and happiness beyond what the tongue of men or angels can express, or the powers of the human mind conceive.
Of the Gospel we farther observe, that it is purely a matter of revelation, and is not discoverable by the light of nature. This revelation was made by slow degrees. On this head a late writer1 in our connection expresses himself thus: "The first dawning of the Gospel, and at the same time the first glimmering of hope, appeared to Adam in the promise that was made respecting the seed of the woman, Gen. iii. 15. Here the eternal counsels of the grace of God began to unfold themselves. In the promise made to Abraham, which was afterwards renewed to Isaac and Jacob, the same gospel grace breaks forth with clearer light. What had before been spoken in more general terms of the seed of the woman, is now said in a more particular manner of the seed of Abraham, Genesis xxii. 18. To Jacob the very time of accomplishing the promise was pointed out, Gen. xlix. 10. Moses renders the promise still more manifest, while he points out a character and likeness, Deuteronomy xvii. 15. In the prophets, who were much farther advanced in the dispensation of the promises, approaching to the fullness of time, hastening to the coming of the Messiah, you have his virgin mother, Isaiah vii. 5; place of birth, Micah v. 2, and the other circumstances particularly pointed out. Only observe the order and progress of the divine promises, gathering light and strength as they advance. When the first intimation of a Saviour was given, he was to be sought for among all the human race; afterwards we are directed to the particular seed of Abraham; even Isaac and Jacob: of Jacob's numerous sons the tribe of Judah is taken; of the tribe of Judah the family of Jesse; and of Jesse's sons the house of David. Thus, reducing, as it were, to a point, what had at first been delivered but in very general terms.
"These are some of the leading and principal discoveries that were made to the world, of our blessed Saviour before his incarnation. Thus did the promises and prophesies become brighter and brighter, until at last they shone more clear in their full accomplishment, when the sun of righteousness rose, dispelling darkness, and spreading the light of the gospel-day."
This revelation of the Gospel has been made known to such nations, and applications of it made to such individuals of those nations, as it seemed good to the sovereign will and good pleasure of God. "It is not of him that willeth," says the apostle, "nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy," Romans ix. 16.
The applications of the Gospel under the influence of the divine Spirit, in the work of conviction and conversion, is absolutely necessary, in order to our receiving saving benefit from it. In this precious work of grace in our hearts, the Law and Gospel, considered as means, go hand in hand, and are often found in the same verse. By the one is the knowledge of sin, by the other the discovery of deliverance. The one worketh despair, the other faith and hope.
Thus, beloved brethren, you see, that the glorious Gospel, in every point of view, is the work of the rich and sovereign grace of God. It was of the sovereign grace and mercy of God, that the glorious plan of redemption was concerted, was published, and was afterwards, as it still is, applied to the elect, with all its saving benefits. O the glorious and blessed Gospel! O the sovereign grace and mercy of God in and through a gracious Redeemer!
From what we have said, various useful observations, by way of inference, might be made; but we shall only mention two: First, that according to the Gospel, the atonement of Christ did not extend to every individual of the human race; and, secondly, that the Gospel contains no conditional offers of salvation.
We mention these, because some in our days seem to favor such notions, and some others, that tend to mar and go a great way towards sullying the glory of the Gospel.
In regard to the first, if atonement was made for all, it was God's intention that it should; that intention must have its full effect; the effect must be that all must and will be saved.
If Christ answered the demands of law and justice for all, and paid the price in full, then there must be guiltless persons in hell for want of being made meet for heaven. Christ has done his part, but the Spirit declines doing his. Why God should appoint satisfaction to be made for all, and afterwards not renew and sanctify all, and bring them to heaven, must be very strange, and utterly inconsistent with the glory and perfections of Him, who does nothing in vain, who never does a part, without doing the whole, who always finishes what he begins.
It is manifest from the holy Scriptures, that Christ made atonement for his people, Isaiah liii. 8; Luke i. 68; his sheep, John x. 15, 26, 29; xvii. 9; those that were given him, Hebrews ii. 13; who were redeemed from among others, Revelation v. 9.
As to the second, to make salvation conditional, would rob God of his sovereignty, and make his glory to depend on man; while at the same time it would give room for boasting. It would also convert the Gospel of the grace of God into a new law. Is the law of works to be preferred to the covenant of grace? If it be of grace, says the apostle, then is it no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace. What! make our happiness depend on man? If we will do part, God will do the rest. AIas! what can man do in the business of his salvation first or last, to merit or promote it? Is he altogether dependent on God? Yea, verily, that at every step, in the beginning and progress of the glorious work, he may cry, grace, grace; and whosoever glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
But these men make a distinction between natural and moral ability. What is the use of this distinction, but to evade, deceive, and confuse? What can natural ability avail towards producing a supernatural effect? The effect can never exceed its cause, any more than a stream can rise higher than its fountain. Now the exercise of any and every evangelical grace is supernatural, is purely of God: but what is born of the flesh is flesh. And besides, if man's natural ability was competent to repent, believe, accept, obey, &c., what good could it do him, since he is never to exert it, unless God induces or influences him thereto; and without which influence, all offers and moral suasion will prove ineffectual. If we speak of repentance, for instance, is not Christ exalted as a Prince and a Saviour to give repentance unto Israel, and remission of sins? If we speak of faith; what faith? natural faith? What can this be better than the faith of devils, who believe and tremble? But if we speak of supernatural and evangelical faith, the Scripture is express. By way of distinction from the other, it is called, the faith of the operation of God, the faith of God's elect, like precious faith with us, that faith which purifies the heart, and worketh by love. And in regard to them, who received him, it is said, to them gave he power. Yea, verily, all the power, influence, and every thing in the business of our salvation is entirely of God alone, and not of us, who are but perfect weakness.
The scheme of divine truth contained in the Holy Scripture, is manifestly this: That man fell from that state of rectitude wherein he was created, and became guilty, polluted, depraved, helpless, &c.; that God in his rich mercy and wisdom, devised a way for the recovery and salvation of such as to him seemed meet, which was doing no injury to others, that were left; that the way of recovery is through the atoning blood of Christ, who glorified the divine perfections in making honorable the law, and bringing in an everlasting righteousness in behalf of and for those that were given him, who in God's own time and way are renewed and sanctified, made holy here and happy hereafter. To this end means are appointed, chiefly the word and the ministration thereof; wherein the state of the sinner by nature, and the way of recovery through rich grace is unfolded; and it pleases God to enlighten the mind; move on the affections, and subdue the will. The sinner is awakened and convicted; he sees his danger; is filled with concern of mind; enquires what he must do to be saved; has repentance unto life given him; is led to see the fulness, freeness, suitableness, and glory of the way of life through a Redeemer; is enabled to lay hold by faith of this hope; is transformed by the renewing of his mind; has the constraining love of God shed abroad in his heart; is humbled and abased in himself, yet triumphs in the mercy and power of God; and thus being filled with holy zeal, he goes on his way rejoicing. He is sensible the Lord of his mere sovereign unconditional grace and mercy began the good work, is now carrying it on, and will complete it in glory, to whom, therefore, without reserve, he ascribes all the praise, and will to all eternity.
It is now, brethren, time that we draw towards a conclusion. We hope you are in a good measure established in these truths, and that they are precious to you. May the Lord bless you, and the Gospel of his grace be among you, and may the time be hastened when it shall be spread in its purity with power and great glory over the whole earth.
Now unto him that 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.
THOMAS USTICK, Moderator. PETER WILSON, Clerk.
Rev. MORGAN EDWARDS, formerly Pastor of the Philadelphia church, resigned his place in the church militant in the year past. "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord."
1 Dr. Jones's Sermon on the Covenant.
[From Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1795. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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