The elders and messengers of the churches belonging to the Philadelphia Baptist Association, met in Association at Lower Dublin, in the county of Philadelphia.
To the churches they represent, send christian salutation:
Dearly beloved, — In the course of his providence, it hath seemed good unto the Lord again to visit the city of Philadelphia with the rod of his chastisement, in sending among the inhabitants a malignant fever; in consequence of which, it has been thought right that this Association should be held in some place free from the disease; from whence we now address you by this our letter.
We rejoice in the Lord that we, as the spared monuments of his mercy, have been permitted to meet each other by the respective messengers of the churches; from whom we have been glad to hear of the general welfare of Zion, and return thanks unto the great head of the church for the unanimity and brotherly love which have existed among us while in Association.
The subjects, upon which you will be addressed by us this year, are the important ones of Christian liberty and liberty of conscience, which come next in order in our Confession of faith.
That there is a liberty, and a glorious liberty too, which is the inheritance and portion of the people of God, is a fact clearly established, not only by the experience of all those who are made alive unto God in Christ, but also by the unerring testimony of the Spirit of truth as given in the word of God, declaring that, he that is called in the Lord, although he be a servant, is the Lord's free man.
The existence of spiritual bondage, as opposed to this liberty, is also clearly ascertained by the same incontrovertible testimony: the sons of men having, because of transgression, even in their first legal representative and head, sold themselves for nought, being brought into bondage unto Satan, and having made themselves the servants of sin, for whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
In this state of bondage mankind are naturally, and their evidence of their being so, is the desperate wickedness of their hearts, inclined to evil as the sparks are to fly upwards, leading them on to the perpetration of all manner of sin and uncleanness with delight and greediness: hence they are brought under bondage to the law, and are under its curse. While thus the wrath of God abideth on them; considered in this point of view they are the slaves of Satan, and remain, unless Jesus deliver them, all their lives long in this servitude, by reason of the fear of death, and the awful prospect of a future state of never-ending punishment. They are also tied to the world, and labor under the guilt of sin. Deplorable state in which men stand! without a deliverance from which the mind shudders at the fearful prospect before them.
But blessed be our God with him there is redemption, that he may be feared; and it hath pleased him to place all power in the hands of Jesus, so that if the Son make us free, we shall he free indeed not only from the guilt and condemnation of sin, but also from the weight and burden of the law, which we are told gendereth to bondage — he bringing them under the gospel, which is the perfect law of life and liberty. For we also were in bondage under the same, until the fulness of the time was come, when God sent forth his Son, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. Wherefore, those that are thus delivered, are no more servants but "sons; and if sons, then heirs of God, through Christ." They are delivered from the condemnation of the law; for "there is now no condemnation to them, which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." They are released by him from the dominion of sin and death; "for the law of the Spirit of life, in Christ Jesus, hath made them free from the law of sin and death." From the fear of death, the king of terrors to the sons of men, they are specially released; "forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also, himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him, that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage." From the evil consequences of temporal affliction and distress, which in the children of disobedience work resentment against the good providence of a God of wisdom, they are peculiarly freed; because, by the Spirit of adoption, beholding God as their indulgent father, they know that " all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."
But, beloved brethren, the glorious liberty of the sons of God as wrought out for them by the blessed Jesus, the deliverer of the captives of sin, extends further than what has been stated unto you. The veil between time and eternity is rent, — for them the everlasting doors of heaven are thrown open: and they who are led by his free Spirit have an access unto the throne of the most high God, and are privileged to go in and out and find pasture. For "now in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace;" and through him we, both Jews and Gentiles, all that are named of the family in heaven and on earth, all that are called, "have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now, therefore, ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God;" and may exercise boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus in full assurance of faith.
The service of God is performed, by such as are brought into this precious liberty with perfect pleasure; the love of that God, who hath saved them and redeemed them, casteth out all slavish fear, and with a willing mind and filial affection they delight to do his will.
Such is the glorious liberty which Christ was anointed to proclaim to the captives, such the opening of the prison to them that were bound, such the freedom of which none can deprive you, and from which you cannot be excluded.
But dearly beloved and longed for, our hope and crown of rejoicing, the blessed Captain of our salvation hath thus freed us, that we might manifest to the glory of God, that the liberty in which we stand is not connected with licentiousness, but is continually the attendant of the Spirit of God leading into all truth and righteousness before him: now the Lord is that Spirit: and "where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty." For so is the will of God, that with well-doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men, (who charge this doctrine of our liberty as licentious, thinking they spy out that which they know nothing of,) that you as free should not use your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness but as the servants of God. For brethren, ye have been called unto liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh.
It is to be regulated by an attention to the whole moral law as the rule of our conduct both toward God and our fellow men: " For whose looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed." Therefore, so speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. Remembering that of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into bondage; for ye cannot be the freed men of Christ, and the servants of sin, because no man can serve two masters. Christ hath ransomed you for this same purpose; "that you being delivered out of the hands of your enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of your life:" "Knowing this that your old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin: for he that is dead is freed from sin. For we are become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that we should be married to another, even to him, who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God."
The all-wise Jehovah has given unto all men an equal freedom and liberty of conscience, the court of which is sacred, and wherein none have a right to tread but the individual himself and the blessed God by his word and Spirit, those only being the judges, who have authority to decide all matters concerning it. The angels of God themselves have no authority to interfere therein, much less any of the sons of men who are creatures of the dust, short sighted beings of a moment; and therefore their commandments, doctrines, or ordinances, unless founded upon, consistent with, and springing out of his word, which alone is truth, are by no means to be considered by you as obligatory; who, having your consciences purged from dead works, are called upon to hearken unto God, rather than unto men, making his word alone your rule and guide in all things.
And now, brethren, we bid you farewell. May that God who hath by his grace placed you in the liberty wherein you stand, enable you to stand fast therein; until you behold the top stone of the building brought forth in Heaven, shouting — Grace! Grace unto it! Amen.
By order of the Association,
WILLIAM ROGERS, Moderator. PETER WILSON, Clerk.
[From Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1797. - jrd]
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