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THE CIRCULAR LETTER FROM THE
Elders, Ministers, & Messengers, of
THE SEVERAL BAPTIST CHURCHES OF THE
WESTERN ASSOCIATION,
Assembled at BATH, June 7 and 8, 1797.
"The Sovereignty of God in Salvation"
Written by John Ryland
[The document uses "f" for "s" and these have been changed to make the reading easier. Jim Duvall]


Maintaining the important Doctrines of three equal Persons in the Godhead; eternal and personal Election; Original Sin; particular Redemption; free Justification by the imputed Righteousness of Christ; efficacious Grace in Regeneration; the final Perseverance of real Believers; the Resurrection of the Dead; the future Judgment; the eternal Happiness of the Righteous, and everlasting Misery of the Impenitent with the congregational order of the Churches, inviolably:

To the severa1 Churches they represent, or from which they have received Letters, meeting at Launcelton, Truro, and Chacewater in Cornwall; Bampton, Bovev-Tracey, Collumpton, Exeter, Kingsbridge, Plymouth-Dock, Prescott, Tiverton, and Upottery, in Devonshire; Loughwood, Lyme and Winbourne,in Dorsetshire; Portsea, in Hampshire; Bradford, Bratton, Calne, Crockerton, Grittleton and Malsbury, Melksham and Salisbury, in Wiltshire; Bath, Beckington, Bridgewater; in Broadmead, and in the Pithay, Bristol; Chard, Croscombe, Frome, Hatch, Horsington, Paulton, Stokegomer, Wellington and Yeovil, in Somersetshire; and Cheltenham, Horsley, Sodbury, Thornbury, and Wooton-under-edge, in Glocestershire.


Grace be to you, and Peace, from God the Father, and from Jesus Christ our Lord.

     Dear Brethren,
     HAVING been permitted, through the good hand of our God upon us, to assemble again in peace, we read the Letters from the respective Churches with which we are connected, and tho' some are in a declining state, and others bewail


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unpleasant circumstances, which call for our sympathy and prayers, yet on the whole we had cause for great thankfulness, that the Lord is building up the wall of Jerusalem, tho' in troublesome times; and many of our brethren appear earnest and successful in spreading the Gospel, in their respective neighbourhoods, for which we bless God, as well as for the very pleasing interview we have had with each other. Let the Lord's attention to his church encourage us to pray for our guilty land, that in the midst of deserved wrath, he would remember mercy.

     And now, dearly beloved, give us leave, once more, to stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance, in this our circular letter; reminding you of your solemn and voluntary profession of faith in the Redeemer; the principles you have embraced and avowed, to which, we trust you stedfastly adhere; the principles you enjoy as Christians and as protestant dissenters; and your consequent obligations to an holy and exemplary practice. While you all bless God for having been born in a land enlightened by divine Revelation, and at a period wherein the gospel is faithfully preached, by a great number of zealous Ministers; and many of you have peculiar reason to be thankful for a good education, and the early instruction of godly parents and religious friends; you are nevertheless sensible that these external advantages would not have availed, to secure your salvation; had it not been for the sovereign, distinguishing and efficacious grace of God. Whatever was the character of your parents, or progenitors, you were, by nature, children of disobedience, and children of wrath, even as others. No act of man, no powers of human suasion, would have, secured your compliance with the call of the gospel, had not God, himself opened your hearts, to receive those truths, which were once unpalatable to your depraved taste. You were not born Christians, as you were born of the flesh; nor was there in your native disposition any good thing towards the Lord God of Israel. Those of you whose parents were the most eminent for godliness, were not born of blood as deriving real piety from your ancestors; nor were any of you born of the will of the flesh, as tho' some native disposition of your own had wrought itself up at last to true holiness; nor were you born of the will of man, by the effectual influence of godly relations, or the most able, eloquent, and zealous preachers; but you were born of God.

The sovereign will of God alone creates us heirs of grace,
Born in the image of his Son, a new peculiar race.

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     Consider then your infinite obligations to divine mercy and discriminating love: Surely you are bound to walk, not as others do, who are "alienated from the life of God, thro' the ignorance which is in them, because of the blindness (or callousness) of their hearts; "but to walk worthy of your high calling worthy of God, who hath called you to his kingdom an glory."

     Having professed to embrace the humbling and holy doctrines of grace, may you live daily under their practical influence. You should be humble indeed, who admit that eternal misery would have been your certain doom, had it not been for the free and self-moved grace of FATHER, the full and costly redemption of the SON, and the special and effectual influence of the HOLY SPIRIT. Boasting is excluded forever, and while you have cause for joy unspeakable and full of glory, you must unite in confessing. Not unto us, not unto us, but to thy mercy and truth, O Lord, is all the honor of salvation due. And have you not, Brethren, the strongest inducements to abhor sin, and to follow after holiness? You were predestinated to be conformed to the image of God's dear Son. You were bought with a price, that you might glorify God with your bodies, and with your spirits, which are God's. Do not practically deny your Saviour's claim. Ye are not your own. Yield yourselves unto God. When God was determined to save you, he accounted it inconsistent with his perfections to exempt you from personal sufferings without the vicarious sufferings of his own Son. He gave him up to be a sacrifice for you, that he might manifest, at once, his love to you, and his hatred of your sins. Yes, he spared not his own Son, but condemned sin in his flesh, that he might shew his abhorrence of sin as decisively in the salvation of the saved, as it can be shewn in the punishment of them that are lost. How then, should you hate all iniquity, and how readily should you crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts! How should the example of Christ be imitated by you, when you consider his perfect obedience as the ground of your justification, and the pattern of your sanctification! You are called unto holiness, walk therefore as it becometh saints, in newness of life, and let it appear that you are God's workmanship, created anew in Christ Jesus, unto good works, which God hath before ordained, that we should walk in them.


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     While you search the scriptures for yourselves, and acknowledging no Lord of Conscience but Christ Jesus, are careful not to observe for ordinances the commandments of men; we trust, you will manifest a sincere affection for all the followers of Christ tho' they are not of one judgment with yourselves, as to questions of smaller moment. Act up to your own light; search diligently and impartially after the truth, let it lead you where it will: but if any be otherwise minded, on some particulars, who yet evidently hold the head, and give proof of vital union with Christ let it appear, that an agreement in many of the most interesting truths of religion, has more effect to unite you, than a disagreement, in a few less important points, can have to divide you. And if you think you have the advantage of other denominations, as entertaining more scriptural views of any doctrine or ordinance of the gospel, let it be your concern to exceed them, if possible, in brotherly love, and in an impartial and universal attention to all Christ's commandments.

     We wish you not to be ashamed of any of your religious principles, but to be ready, with meekness and fear, to give an answer to every one who asketh you a reason for your sentiments or practice. But let your zeal for every part of truth be proportioned to its magnitudes arid ever speak the truth in love. The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. The more you are persuaded that you have truth on your side, the less occasion is there for angry violence towards them that oppose it. Great is the truth, and [it] will at last prevail; but nothing would, retard its progress like a wrong spirit in its defenders.

     As we desire you may cultivate love and forbearance, towards your fellow Christians of other denominations, we would surely be equally concerned that you should be at peace among yourselves. And may you study, not only the things which make for peace, but those also whereby one may edify another. Provoke one another to love and to good works. See that you love one another with a pure heart fervently. Let nothing be done among you through strife or vain glory. Be not many masters, but by love serve one another. Let the younger be subject to the elder, yea, be al1 of you subject one to another, and be ye cloathed with humility. Whoever would be truly great among you, let him be the most willing servant of all: let him manifest most of that disinterested love which seeketh not her own:


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so shall he most resemble him that pleased not himself, and who came into this world not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to lay down his life a ransom for many. They who partake largely of his spirit will be willing to lay out their lives, yea to lay them down, for the good of others.

     Treat not your relation to each other, and the duties consequent upon it, as trivial and unimportant. The churches to which you respectively belong, did not claim you as members, against your wills; nor were you compelled to join them by constraint, or inticed into them by hope of emolument; but you proposed yourselves to them and requested admittance into them, for the sake of spiritual advantages alone, which you expected to enjoy in them. Having, therefore, formed your social religious connections voluntarily, but with a regard to the authority of Jesus Christ, as the alone Lord of Conscience, and Head of the Church, see that you violate not your solemn promises. You professed to give up yourselves to the Lord, and to one another according to the will of God: remember that the vows of God are upon you, and having sworn unto the Lord, you cannot revoke the surrender you made of yourselves unto God, without incurring aggravated guilt. Nor are you at liberty to retract your engagements with your Brethren, without a valid reason, that would justify your withdrawment from them, before the heart-searching God. Dare not then lightly to forsake the house of your God. Trifle not with sacred things by breaking your covenant with the Church, after you had subscribed with your hand unto the Lord. Fill up your places conscientiously, and study topromote the best interests of the community. Be not satisfied with the name of a member, or a monthly place at the table of the Lord; but seek the spiritual prosperity of your brethren. Join them in social prayer, and pray for them in secret. And remember that, according to your ability, you are bound, as much as the rest, to honour the Lord with your substance, by contributing to the necessary expences of his worship, and by relieving his poor.

     You have the privilege of chusing your own ministers, instead of having them obtruded upon you by others. Shew that you value them accordingly, as God's gift, and your


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own own choice.* Brethren! Pray for us! How else can you hope to profit by our ministrations? Strengthen your pastor's hands, especially by confirming their testimony respecting the nature of true religion and the holy tendency of the gospel, by the tenor of your lives. We desire not to lord it over God's heritage but to remember that we are your servants for Christ's sake. But do not prejudice people of other denominations, against the constitution of our Churches, by seeming to forget that there is any meaning in Hebrews xiii. 17. For the like reason, as well as for others more weighty, beware, when we are removed from you, of splitting into parties, and indulging a spirit of contention about our successors. Shew that each is desirous, not merely of suiting his own fancy, in the election of a new Preacher, but of promoting the happiness of the whole society. Be unanimous, if possible. Sacrifice almost any thing, but truth and holiness, to the love of peace and concord. Let none of you forsake the church, as soon as your Minister is removed, and leave your brethren to shift for themselves in a state of bereavement. But, at such a season, be peculiarly concerned to strive together for the faith of the gospel, and watch over one another in love, till God shall send you a pastor. Continue instant in prayer, at such a time; and seek for one who shall approve himself to your consciences more than to your fancies; be not led away by showy, superficial qualifications, but covet earnestly the far superior gifts of solid piety and intimate acquaintance with the power of godliness. Prudence, patience and meekness also are valuable qualities in a Minister, which yet will commonly be overlooked by those members who will perhaps put them most to the trial afterwards.

     As in our churches every communicant has a vote in the choice of officers so also in the admission of private members, exercise this right candidly and discreetly, but faithfully. Him who is weak in faith receive ye, and embarrass him not with doubtful disputations. But beware of admitting such as give not hopeful evidence of real conversion, or who are enemies to the true grace of God wherein you stand. The principles of genuine liberty can never forbid, that persons who are nearly agreed in their views of religious truth, should have a right to associate together for spiritual purposes;
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* See an excellent Discourse of Brother Pearce's on the Duty of Churches to regard Ministers as the gift of Christ, with one by Brother Ryland on the duty of Ministers to be nursing Fathers to the Church, both delivered at the ordination of the Rev. W. Belsher at Worshester. price 1s. Sold by Button, &c.


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without being constrained to admit others, who would oppose them in their most important sentiments, or who widely disagree in their ideas of the way of salvation, or even of the object of worship. Be careful however, that you contend for the faith once committed to the saints, only with scriptural weapons; and be as zealous against every unholy practice, as ever you can be against erroneous principles. We beseech you to assist us in maintaining regular discipline. Let not the cause of God be injured by our churches conniving at sin. Aim, in all your admonitions, to manifest that you feel a real pity for the offender: Yet, the good of the individual is not the only object you should have in view, you must also regard the purity of the community, and the honour of our blessed Lord. Hence if any wicked person creeps in among you, who cannot be reclaimed, he must be excluded. And where the offence has been public, and scandalous in the eyes of the world, this may be necessary notwithstanding some hope that the offender is penitent. Let him be separated for a season, and received in again, after he has brought forth fruits meet for repentance. There are also offences against a church, which will justify exclusion, if persisted in, after repeated admonitions, tho' not commonly accounted acts of immorality. In fact, it is immoral, for persons to break their solemn covenant with the church and to withdraw, without any weighty and conscientious reason from divine ordinances; or to labor to disseminate prejudice and disaffection, after promising to walk together in love, and to endeavour to keep the unity of the spirit, in the bond of peace. Yet some professors will make light of these evils, and when a church deals with them, for such conduct, they will despise the censure of their brethren, and boast that they cannot cut them of from Christ, or erase their names from the book of life. Unhappy creatures! It is as far from our will, as it is beyond our power to separate any one from Christ; but we wish them to see to it that they have solid evidence of union with him; and we mull remind them, that if any one have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And it is but a poor evidence that they are led by his Spirit, when they first withdraw themselves from his people, contrary to their own voluntary engagements; and then indulge a lasting rancor against those who assented to that withdrawment, and dissolved the relation in which they refused to remain. Be however, brethren, careful to make straight paths for your own feet, that "that which is lame may not be turned out of the way, but rather let it be healed." Be sure [you] do not, in these cases especially, render railing for railing,
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nor treat distempered professors with either levity or bitterness, but with a due mixture of compassion; and the deepest seriousness.

     Suffer us, brethren, to remind you also of your duty to them that are without. The Apostle has given us a charge to walk honestly, and in wisdom towards them; intending doubtless that we should regard the strictest rules of integrity arid prudence, in our intercourse with the men of the world. You must not disguise the most unpalatable truths, nor neglect the most unfashionable duties, in compliment to the false taste of mankind; but see to it, at the same time, that you are not deficient in the more pleasing parts of visible religion.* While you insist upon the necessity of Christ's obedience unto death, to maintain the RIGHTS OF DEITY; shew that you are excited to a conscientious regard of all the RIGHTS OF MEN. Render honor to whom honor, tribute to whom tribute is due. Owe no man any thing but love. And let the mercy you have received, make you merciful; let the forgiveness shewn to you, make you ready to forgive. As far as you are able, appear as willing so bestow relief on the necessitous as ever you can be to administer reproof to the profane, or the erroneous. Be peculiarly attentive to all relative duties. If you have unbe1ieving relations, let them be forced to acknowledge, that your religion has made you better, than you were before your conversion. -- Let parents especially be concerned to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. You durst not have them baptized, without authority from Christ to administer that ordinance to them: nor could the uncommanded application of water, in the name of the Trinity, have done them any good. But see that you pray for them, and give them up to God daily. You dare not presume to suggest, that because they are seed of believers, therefore they are heirs of glory; nor that you could, by any act of yours, put them into the everlasting covenant. You find they are children of disobedience; you know they are by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But though grace does not run in the blood, it may run in the line. God who has promised personal salvation to all who ask aright, has often heard the prayers of parents for their children also. Several families in our own connections afford the most pleasing proofs of his goodness. Useful ministers
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* See an admirable sermon of the late Dr. Witherspoon's on the Nature and Extent of visible Religion.


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have been raised up in some of them, for three or four generations.* While the awful examples of Ham and Esau, of Amnon and Absalom, &c. excite your anxious dread, and refute the pernicious notion of an hereditary right to spiritual and eternal blessings; let unnumbered instances of divine mercy, in hearing the prayers of godly parents, and blessing their instructions to the salvation of their children, excite you to wrestle with God for them, and, as it were, to travail again in birth with them, until Christ be formed within them.

     Shew also your concern for the salvation of souls at large. Your servants, your neighbours, your countrymen, ought to attract your tenderest compassions. Brethren! Are there no more ways to be thought of; whereby we: may diffuse the good knowledge of the Lord, thro' the darkest parts of our own country? Is there no method that you can devise; wherein you may co-operate with your ministers for this important purpose? Friends of the Redeemer help! Encourage village preaching, and the distribution of plain, awakening pamphlets among the poor. Set up meetings of prayer, and advise your most reputable members to read to their neighbours of a Lord's Day Evening, where there is no opportunity for a constant lecture. Set all hands to work, for the promotion of the Redeemer's kingdom, and pray for the Spirit to be poured down from on high.

     Finally, remember the Heathen, who still occupy by far the largest part of this miserable globe. Pray for our Million Society, that God may prosper our brethren who are labouring in Asia, with great diligence, and with a very hopeful prospect before them; + and that more Missionaries may be raised up: Men of prudence and ardent zeal, who shall offer themselves for other stations. Be not discouraged at the disappointment we met with in Africa. Let us pray the more earnestly, and be the more solicitous to find proper persons to go for us on so important an errand, but never let us lose sight of so desirable an object. We rejoice in the zeal which other denominations have shewn in the same business, we wish them the greatest success in the name of the Lord. We believe it was prudence, and not party spirit, which made us begin our attempt separately; and our brethren are necessarily
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* We might mention as a specimen the venerable names of Stennett, Evans, Francis, Thomas, &c.

+ Some recent and pleasing intelligence will soon be published in No. 4 of the Periodical Accounts of the Baptist Mission Society.


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confined, as well as ourselves, to employ persons of one mind concerning the ordinance of baptism, because it is a subject of that practical nature, that Missionaries will be obliged to take one side or other, of the controversy as soon as one man is converted who has infant children: whereas a controversy on the best mode of church government may be deferred, till a whole district is proselyted. But while we thus act apart, we may strengthen each others hands, lend each other pecuniary assistance and by mutual counsels, encouragements and prayer; happily co-operate together. On this plan may we all go on, and may mutual goodwill be abundantly increased till a union of heart shall imperceptibly prepare the way for union of judgment, by inducing us to canvass every subject of discussion on which we differ, with such candor and impartiality, as shall help us all to find out the whole truth. May truth finally prevail, with whatever party it is found, may we all get rid of error as fast as possible, and be sanctified by the truth. Amen.

Signed, by Order of the Assembly by the Moderator,
BENJAMIN FRANCIS.
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[The following is part of the Minutes of the Association and is found on page 11 of the document.

B R E V I A T E S.

Wednesday Afternoon, June 7, III. o'clock, Brother Norman prayed, Brother Francis was chosen Moderator: Read the Preliminaries and the Letters from the Churches, after which our aged Brother Clark, of Crockerton, concluded in prayer.

Evening VII. began with singing, Brother Barnett, Minister at the Pithay, prayed, and Brother Sharp, lately chosen Pastor there, having from Manchester, preached from John vi. 44, "No man can come unto me, except the Father who sent me draw him." Brother Sotteridge concluded.

Thursday Morning VI. met for prayer, when the following Brethren engaged, Sprague of Bovey, Ferebee of Sodbury, Morgan of Bridgwater, Mannering of Exeter, Williams of Ross and Penn of Kingsbridge. Received the Subscriptions to the Fund, amounting to L69. 19s. and distributed different sums to aged and infirm Ministers, to assist others with large families, and especially to encourage Village Preaching, to the amount of L72. 10s. 6d. We wish our wealthy friends would put it in our power to do somewhat more another year, for the relief of our afflicted friends, and to aid those who would gladly exert themselves for the diffusion of evangelical knowledge, but are straightened in their efforts by their inability to defray the unavoidable expences.

Half after Ten, Brother Saffery prayed, Brother Rowles preached, from Thess. i. 5. "Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the holy Spirit, and in much assurance." Brother Ryland read the Circular Letter, and closed in prayer.

Afternoon III. Brother Jay, Pastor of the Independent Church in Bath, begun in prayer, and Brother B. Francis preached from Phil. 1. 27. "Striving together for the Faith of the Gospel." Brother Kingdon concluded. After the public Service, the Ministers and Messengers signified their approbation of the general Letter, which was signed by the Moderator. Agreed to hold the next Association at SALISBURY, on the Wednesday and Thursday in Whitsun-Week 1798.

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[This document was taken from a photocopy of the original at Regents Park College, Angus Library, Oxford, England. The title is supplied. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]



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