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Philadelphia Baptist Association
Circular Letter
"Proofs of the Divine Gospel"
By Rev. William Staughton

The ministers and messengers of the Philadelphia Association, to the churches they represent, send Christian salutation.
Beloved Brethren, — Having once more been permitted to meet in Association, to consult the interests of the Redeemer's kingdom, not as having dominion over your faith, but as helpers of your joy, we once more affectionately address you.

It affords us the highest pleasure to find from your letters, that peace, like a river, flows among you; that additions have been made to many of our churches; and that your adherence to the faith of the gospel remains unshaken. We trust you will continue to abound in the work of the Lord, assured that in your holy profession, you have followed no cunningly devised fable, and that in profession, of the invisible world you know whom you have believed. To assist you in repelling every temptation to abandon your profession, and in surmounting the obstacles which may lie in your path to glory and virtue, in an age when thousands are treating the doctrines we maintain as unintelligible, and the duties we practice as irrational, permit us to bring to your view, some of the proofs of the divine origin of that gospel, which has been preached unto you, which also ye have received and wherein ye stand.

The evidences which address the understandings of all men, are the performance of miracles and the accomplishment of prophecy; but there is an evidence too little regarded, which particularly addresses itself to the consciences of believers, — equally convincing with any of the rest, and perhaps, in point of perspicuity and usefulness, superior to them all. It consists in that consciousness, which every Christian in his measure possesses, that he is born of incorruptible seed, which is well expressed by the beloved disciple, where he says, "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself." We know not any occasion on which this evidence can be more seasonably illustrated and enforced, than when writing to such as have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

We wish not, brethren, to direct your thoughts to any fancied internal light, any capricious impulses, which may be supposed to supersede the necessity of scriptural instruction: we refer to those operations of sovereign grace, which include the regeneration and sanctifying of the heart, strong consolation in trouble, and lively hopes in death.

As He who formed the mind is the author and finisher of our faith, we are not surprised that there is a visible harmony between the natural faculties and relative circumstances of the one, and the divine excellencies of the other. An understanding deeply penetrating is the privilege of few, and still fewer areblest with the external means which swell its capacity and assist its researches. "Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called." If the proofs of the gospel were to be derived only from the investigation of ancient histories, the collating of original manuscripts, the acquisition of several languages, or the pursuit of deep metaphysical reasonings, by far the greater part of mankind must remain invincibly ignorant of its heavenly nature. But God, of his infinite wisdom and goodness, has made provision for the poor: He has let fall into the bosom of the Christian, who has both to pray and to toil for the daily bread of himself and family, a key which can open. every door of the doubting castle. The evidence we are contemplating is so plain, that the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err; so rational, that the attempts of the enemy to gainsay or resist are impertinent and abortive; and so universal, that babes, young men, and fathers in Christ, may alike enjoy its power.

We possess, naturally, that intimacy with ourselves which renders the perception of the exercise of our senses, affections, and understandings, obvious to us all. Should a philosopher tell you that the morning sun can shed no lustre on the hills — that there is no noise in the thunders of summer — that there are no such passions as joy and grief — that a human being is not able to reason, or if he be, that he cannot distinguish the operations of his mind — you would reject his assertions, convinced that if you know not these things, you know nothing; convinced that these are to be classed among those self-evident facts which do not properly admit of proof, because nothing in their support can be adduced plainer than themselves. In like manner, should an infidel assert, that there is no glory in the person of Jesus, no terrors in the law of God to the transgressor, no joy in the Holy Ghost, no brokenness of heart for sin, that there exists no such power of discernment as that which Paul ascribes to him that is spiritual; the believer having no internal sense of moral truth, perceives clearly that such declarations are false.

Permit us, brethren, to illustrate the nature of this evidence more fully. Does the infidel declare that the Bible is an imposition on the credulity of mankind? Your experience can answer: "Unless the law of God had been our delight, we had perished in our afflictions." Have you heard him assert that Christ was an impostor? You know he is mistaken; for Christ is formed in you the hope of glory. More blind than the Jewish ruler, does he ridicule the doctrine of the regeneration of the heart? You know what it means, and from its influence argue its origin. Once you loved the world; now you place it beneath your feet. Once you saw no loveliness in religion; now her ways are pleasantness. Pious persons you once bated; now they are your beloved associates, and for the very reason which formerly commanded your aversion, because they bear the image of the heavenly. Effects like these are irresistible proofs that you have passed from death unto life. It is in vain that an infidel contend, that it is absurd to suppose that God would pardon sin by so strange a means as the death of his Son; the Christian has felt the efficacy of the blood of Christ on his conscience. It is of no avail, his deriding the idea of an infernal agent; you know you have such an enemy, and are not ignorant of his devices. Let the foes of piety, if they please, term our religion wild and visionary; we have felt its soothing power, when our bodies have been tortured with pain, when our friends have been removed from our embraces, when the waters of complicated affliction have overwhelmed us.

This inward conviction assisted the primitive Christians to hold fast the faithful word. While the unbelieving Jews and Greeks were requiring a sign and seeking after wisdom, the disciples beheld, in a crucified Saviour, the power and the wisdom of God. No opposition could induce them to be ashamed of a system, which is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.

In the days of our Lord when Philip could not immediately answer Nathaniel's objection to the Messiahship of Jesus, satisfied that he had found him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write, he requested Nathaniel to come and see. We may give the same invitation, both to the friends and enemies of Christianity. Come and see, how swearers become praying persons — how the unclean become chaste — how Sabbath breakers become devout — how he that stole, steals no more, but rather labors, working with his hands the thing which is good. Come. and see how the churlish become liberal and the inebriated sober; see right hands cut off, and right eyes plucked out, rather than the whole body should be cast into hell. Come and "see how a Christian can die," and whether you behold him surrounded with weeping friends on his couch in the chamber, or with exulting enemies at the stake amid the flames, you may hear him singing with surprise and joy, "O death where is thy sting? Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!"

We are sensible, brethren, that infidels may reject this evidence as unfounded; but, while we ask them to assign some other adequate cause, if they can, for the important changes we have named, we beg of you to remember, that "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."

This change of heart and conduct, this inward witness, you need not be told is not of your own producing. God, who is rich in mercy, hath quickened us together with Christ. Neither moral suasion nor gentile philosophy, could have accomplished it. It could have been effected neither by the providences of God, nor by the ministry of the Gospel itself, separate from the power of the Holy Ghost. Indeed, the opposition made to it by our depravity, the world and. the tempter, prove it a work essentially different from their nature and influence.

Paul, when standing on the stairs in Jerusalem, when speaking for himself before Agrippa, and when writing to the Galatian churches, demonstrates the truth of the Gospel, and his commission to proclaim it, from the history of his conversion. We wish you, brethren, ever to exercise that wisdom which dwells with prudence; but, we would recommend to you on proper occasions, even in the presence of infidels, to relate the story of your conversion to God. Some, like the Jews, may deride you; many, like Agrippa, may be almost persuaded to become Christians; while others, by the blessing of God, may, like the Galatians, be made not almost, but altogether disciples of Jesus Christ.

It is frequently observed respecting prophecy, that it is a growing evidence; the same is true as to the witness within. The more you grow in grace and the knowledge of Christ, the stronger will be your faith; purity and stability are the companions of each other. Suffer us then, dear brethren, to exhort you to every good word and work. Enable your ministers, while they behold your faith, your patience and charity, to say, "Ye are our epistles written in our hearts, known and read of all men." Dwell much in your meditations on the redemption of the Son of God, Christ; increasing in love to him who first loved you and to your brethren in the Lord, Let grace and truth govern all your actions. Pray for and pursue the prosperity and peace of Jerusalem. Mortify the deeds of the body. Mind not the world nor the things of the world. Let your conversation be in heaven. In short, labor to attain to such a progress in knowledge and purity, as shall compel a wicked world to exclaim with the damsel of Philippi, "These men are the servants of the most high God."

Though the evidence we have been explaining brightens with our advance in the divine life, yet we hope none of you will write bitter things against yourselves, because the knowledge or joys of your brethren may be greater than yours. While we expect you to give all diligence to make your calling and election sure, we wish you to remember, that the evidence lies in the fact itself. Fire is as truly in the smoking flax as in the great volcano; the small dust of the balance is as really a part of the creation as the mountain of Libanus.

A careful investigation of the work of grace on the heart, will enable each of you to say before Jehovah, with a great divine1 of the last century, "I see no doctrine so pure and heavenly, as bearing the image and superscription of God; nor any so fully confirmed and delivered by the attestation of thy own omnipotency; nor any which so purely pleads thy cause; calls the soul from self and vanity; condemns its sin; purifies it, and leads it directly unto thee. Thou hast mercifully given me the witness in myself! not an unreasonable persuasion in my mind, but that renewed nature, those holy and heavenly desires and delights, which sure can come from none but thee. And O! how much more have I perceived it in many of thy servants than in myself. Thou hast cast my lot among the souls that Christ hath healed; I have daily conversed with such whom he hath raised from the dead. I have seen the power of thy Gospel upon sinners. All the love that ever I perceived kindled towards thee, and all the true obedience I ever saw performed to thee, hath been effected by the word of Jesus Christ. And if confidence in Christ be yet deceit, must I not say that thou hast deceived me, who I know canst neither be deceived, or by any falsehood or seduction deceive?"

You will perceive with the pious watts, that this is a powerful witness, and ever ready to baffle the most learned sophisms and the boldest temptations: it lies so near, that it is a present shield against every arrow from the camp of infidelity. It is an argument drawn from sense and vital experience, and effectually answers all the subtle cavils of false reasonings. The quibbles of logic against the experience of the Christian, are but as darts of stubble against the scales of a leviathan.

That you may enjoy this earnest of the Spirit, this unction from the Holy one, more and more, is the hearty prayer of, beloved brethren, your servants, for Christ's sake.
Signed in behalf of the whole,
SAMUEL JONES, Moderator.

1 Richard Baxter.
[From the Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1800. — jrd]

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