The Philadelphia Baptist Association convened in Philadelphia, October 6th, 7th and 8th, 1801.
To the several churches thereunto belonging, sendeth Christian salutation.
Beloved brethren, - Under the smiles of an indulgent Providence, we have been once more so favored as to meet in by the angel of death. The interview has been comfortable, and our deliberations have been in peace.
Custom will lead you to expect an address from us in our collective capacity. We comply with the expectation; "not as having dominion over your faith, but as helpers of your joy."
We have entered upon a new century; and while it is yet the morning of it, let us take a view of some of the works of God in the last.
Ninety-four years have rolled on since the first meeting of this Association, the first in America, and then composed of only five churches; but viewing the present state of our connexion in this country, we perceive it to be as the thousands of Israel, embracing numerous Associations, composed of, at least twelve hundred churches, including more than a hundred thousand members.
The circumstances of our brethren in this country, prior to the Revolution, in several of the then colonies, were much the same as those of our brethren in Europe, at that time and since. Civil establishments of religion, the natural foes of civil and religious freedom and of the progress of truth, were only partial here; yet where they had a being, persecution of our brethren was the consequence, the establishment in Britain having considerable influence in those colonies where no such establishment actually existed, owing to the power of the British king in this country, who is the head of the established church, and who, as such, accordingly bestowed his favors.
But Jehovah changed the times, and so overruled the matter, that the then colonies not only became sovereign independent States, but have taken a national form under the federal constitution. The constitutions, and generally the laws of the individual States, and that of the United States, declaring and guarantying full religious freedom, we are not only released from that yoke of bondage which the witnesses for Christ have borne almost in every age and nation since the commencement of the Christian era; but we see the effects of this freedom in the increase of our connexion, which, since the Revolution, is comparable to an accelerated motion.
The display of the sovereignty of God in this progress of gospel truth is great, teaching us that Christ's kingdom needs no support from union with the governments of this world; that the more distinctly the line is drawn between them the better. Indeed, all attempts to unite them are in direct contempt of Christ's authority as "Head over all things to the church;" directly destroy her glory, and effectually impede the general progress of truth. During the space of nearly fourteen hundred years, have men and devils attempted the church's destruction by such a union. The existence of civil establishments of religion in Europe, humanly speaking, presents an insurmountable barrier to the spiritual reign of Christ in that quarter; for while they remain, we see no way in which the pure gospel and unadulterated ordinances of Christ can have general countenance.
The course of Divine Providence induces the idea, that Zion's defence is opening another field for the displays of his grace. And, perhaps, while he pours out the vials of his wrath on those nations which have given their power to the beast; for the destruction of the monster produced by the union of church and state, in order that he may be "King over all the earth," he will show his gracious power, and "make the place of his feet glorious," where this part of anti-christian tyranny has no existence.
Ever mindful of his promise, God, in the latter part of the last century, brought to the knowledge of those nations where the gospel was, large and populous parts of the world, which in former times were unknown; and, also, disposed the minds of his people in Europe to send the gospel there, in a way as unexpected.
The generality of the denominations of professed Christians having originally derived their various forms of ecclesiastical government, from attempts to mould the church after the model of the polity of the nation into which they were intended individually to be incorporated, and the civil support of which they sought and needed; having departed from the simplicity of the divine constitution, which knows no other aid but that of its divine head; their frame admitting of worldly grandeur and prosperity, as well as support and defence; and naturally leading them to court a civil establishment, made them unfriendly to each other; but, in a manner, as unexpected as unexampled, God weakened their mutual jealousies, and they have united in sending to, and, at a vast expense, supporting missions in those distant regions; and in that respect appear to have dropt their particular pursuits of temporal power and aggrandizement, which, as well as union, was necessary to their success in the work.
Many endeavors to christianize the heathen have proved abortive, owing to collateral attempts of the society which sent the missionaries to gain political power or exaltation thereby. But the order of our churches having never been derived from the wisdom or policy of man; not being framed according to the modal of any body politic, we cannot, in any consistency therewith, have such views in sending or supporting the gospel where it is not; and so humanly speaking, are more likely to be successful in it. This consideration, over and above those commonly urged, calls upon us as a people, to exert ourselves in the great and important work.
Connected with this view of the subject, the success of the brethren of our denomination, in England, ought to arrest our attention. They have sent, and, with such pecuniary aids as the Lord stirred up others to afford them, have supported a mission in the idolatrous and far distant country of Hindostan, where the inhabitants, by their customs, appear to be more strongly fortified against the introduction of Christianity among them than perhaps in any other heathen. land. Yet not only many of the people, but in some instances their Brahmans, lend a patient ear to the doctrines of the cross. The gospel by Matthew, printed in the language of that country, has reached America; and probably the whole of the Bible is by this time distributing among the blinded Hindoos in their native tongue by the extraordinary efforts of that mission.
The success of the missionary sent to the western Indians by our sister Association of New York; and the disposition to hear the gospel manifested by whole nations of them, when met in council, satisfied that neither he nor those who sent him, sought any temporal aggrandizement by, or emolument from them, claims our particular notice; it may operate as a stimulus upon us to be found in like exertions, hoping the Lord is about to come in his kingdom.
In comparing our happy circumstances with those of our brethren in past ages, or at present in other countries, we view ourselves as surrounded with calls to adore the Divine Sovereignty that has brought us into existence now, rather than four hundred years ago, and here rather than in Europe. And although we pretend not to know with certainty when "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord," yet the events of Divine Providence within the last twenty-five or thirty years are incentives to adore the "Head over all things to the church," that He, ever mindful of his purpose, is at least beginning, to bring about predicted events in ways declarative of his wisdom and cure, securing the glory to himself by using unexpected means.
How safe is his church in his hand! How immovable! when unconnected with national governments, she rests alone on him as her firm foundation.
The time in which we live, the late providential occurrences, and the general appearance of things call loudly upon us as a people for particular exertions in duties arising from our circumstances. While in times of persecution, a decided testimony for the Gospel and Laws of Christ, and patience in suffering are required; - so now, besides that testimony, to cleanse our hands from seeking worldly honor, as connected with the affairs; offices or prosperity of the church of Christ, and to exert ourselves in sending the gospel where the Lord may farther open a door for it among the heathen, may be mentioned as some of those duties that providence demands from us.
We hope better things of you, than to suppose that you are negligent in prayer for the coming of Christ's kingdom; yet we cannot but conclude, from solid grounds, that together with importunity at the throne of grace, pecuniary exertions for the diffusion of the gospel are particularly necessary.
We also hope, that not only the Lord will incline you to make such exertions; but that you will look up to him as the disposer of all events, that he may both raise up persons endowed with missionary qualifications, and open "a great door and effectual" of gospel usefulness before them.
It is probable that difficulties will present themselves to you as individuals, in the prospects of usefulness in this way, as "that all you can do will be ineffectual; but be not discouraged. Let each one act conscientiously, according to the magnitude of the object, and the ability God has given, leaving it in his hand, and we shall have a solid hope that a blessing will follow; for it is common for the Lord to blast the blooming expectations of his people, and succeed those attempts made according to his will which promise less. Nor need we expect that Satan will refrain from attempting, by every method in his power, to impede any thing that may be thought of, or done to disturb or destroy the empire he has so long maintained among them. But to be the humble instruments in the Lord's hand, of sending that gospel, and those pure ordinances which European civil establishments of religion almost shut out or naturally hinder the progress of, to those poor heathen whose hearts the Lord has opened or may open, -- to be thus the means of benefit to one poor soul, will unspeakably overpay all the exertions you may use, or expense that may accrue.
And finally, dear brethren, we exhort you to walk circumspectly. A time of such outward peace and prosperity is a time of peculiar trial. We are in danger of sinking into remisness [remissness] in secret devotion, and thus becoming exposed to every temptation,; of becoming worldly minded, and, by eagerly pursuing the accumulation of wealth, giving the lie to our profession of love to Christ, his people and laws; of conforming to the world in their customs and insipid conversation, and thereby encouraging infidelity. What can strengthen and encourage the infidel more than the worldly conduct and conversation of professors, and especially of those who exhibit a testimony for purity of doctrine, worship and discip1ine, according to the will of Christ?
But we have professed simply to follow him in these things, and as, on the one hand, we ought to do it as our privilege, our happy employment; so on the other, the world will busily compare our conduct with our profession. We earnestly beseech you to be before-hand with them in the comparison, and steadi1y consider whether your common conduct be according to the divine pattern you have professed and engaged to imitate. And seeing we are compassed about with crowds of spectators, some of them professed christians, some professed deists, and some who appear to care for none of those things, "let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus," as our pattern, glorying to tread in his footsteps; and as our support, knowing that we cannot make any progress in our professed subjection to him or for his glory, without assistance from him; but which he has promised, and will assuredly give to those who trust in him.
"Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work, to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ: to whom be glory, for ever and ever. Amen,"
By the Association,
JAMES EWING, Moderator. WILLIAM STAUGHTON, Clerk. ============================
[From A. D. Gillette, Minutes of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, 1851; reprint, 2001, pp. 362-366. The title is supplied. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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