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 true Saints; the Resurrection of the Dead; the future Judgment; the eternal Happiness of the Righteous, and endless Misery of the Impenitent, with the congregational Order of the Churches, inviolably:
To the several Churches they represent, or from which they have received Letters.
Grace be to you, and, Peace from God the Father, and from Jesus Christ our Lord.
PRESERVED by that indulgent providence, which has often permitted us to assemble, we have again met; and in our associate capacity taken sweet counsel together. In reading your letters, our emotions have corresponded with your circumstances. Some things have transpired in the past year, which we deplore; and others in which we rejoice. Now we have felt the rising sigh, and then our hearts have glowed with grateful gladness. Upon the whole, the state of the churches is such, as indicates, we trust, that the Lord is carrying on his work. To those of you with whom its progress is impeded, we say, Is there not a cause? A cause which rests with you, and which it becomes you to search out? We exhort such to be watchful, and strengthen the things which are ready to die, to repent and do their first works; convinced that unless they thus act, they will neither participate the sentiments, or acquiesce in the design of our letter.
THE IMPORTANCE OF STRENUOUS EXERTIONS IN THE CAUSE OF CHRIST; is the subject upon which we are this year called to address you. What indeed brethren, can claim your attention of equal moment? Or what deserve so much your regard?
Considering you the friends of Christ, to advocate such a cause, might seem unnecessary, were we not apprised of the influence of depravity in the best of men; and that the most eminent saints, have need that their pure minds be stirred up to a remembrance of those things which are lovely, and of good report.
Much has been said, both from the pulpit, and the press on this interesting theme; and with much success. A powerful impulse has thereby been given to the prayers, and labours, of the servants of our God; and great good has resulted therefrom, in the conversion of souls, and the enlargement of the Redeemer's kingdom. We doubt not but you have in general read, and heard of these things with pleasure. Your souls have felt a sacred ardour when jolt have joined the general prayer, Thy kingdom come. You have travailed in birth with sinners that Christ may be formed in them, and each has cried, Lord what wilt thou have me to do? In what way shall I assist to extend thy cause among perishing immortals?
But this does not render our attempts to renew, and give increasing energy to your exertions, superfluous. We have particular claims to your attention. We are peculiarly concerned that you come behind in no gift. You are interested in our annual salutations; and read with pleasure these expressions of our unabating concern. Many of you are not able to procure, or have time to read, more labored productions; and those of you with whom it is otherwise, will not dislike to see arguments comprised in a small compass, which you have more largely considered. It is therefore with confidence, that we urge it upon you to exert yourselves in the cause of the Saviour.
Be careful however, that these exertions are made in his cause, and not your own; except as you make his interest yours, and are one with him. The efforts of many, are confined to the precincts of their own narrow circle, or directed to the support of their own sect, or party; beyond this, they do not extend their views; and grieved if success await others, they are ready to pray the Lord, to rebuke those who do not go with them. We de not wish you to be indifferent to those sentiments by which you are distinguished; persuaded that were you thus, your professions of regard to truth in general, would he questionable. Yet we must caution you against the selfish policy which would limit your desires, and prevent your most enlarged activity. Let your souls expand; exert yourselves in your immediate connexions; unite with the friends of Christ in other places, and of other denominations; be one with all who engage in this good work; and rejoice in every instance in which the kingdom of the Redeemer is extended.
To impress your minds more fully with the importance of these things, permit us to remind you of the compassion of Christ to sinners. The cause in which we wish you to exert yourselves, is that which Jesus has thought worthy of his attention, and in which he has employed his most active energies. Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who though he was rich, yet he became poor, that through his poverty he might enrich and save the impoverished, and the perishing. Behold him, humbled in your nature, and appearing in the form of a servant. How did he feel compassion for the multitude, when he saw them as sheep without a shepherd; and begin to teach them many things! He was grieved for their hardness of heart; wept over the incorrigible; and bawailed their impenitence. What was his life, but obedience for their acceptance? What, the great design which animated his affectionate, faithful, and incessant, labours, but to turn them from wickedness, and bring them into a state of reconciliation to God? See him in death: amidst ignominy and exquisite anguish, he made his soul an offering for their sins; and magnanimously supported the guilt of their accumulated crimes, while sustainin the just vengeance of heaven which was due unto them! What could have been done more than he has done? And ought not you, who are thus benefited by the mighty exertions of the friend of sinners, to arm yourselves withthe same mind and engage yourselves with interest in the same cause?
The apostles partook of the spirit of their master,and strenuously employed themselves through life, to extend the cause which he lived and died to establish. They no sooner found Christ themselves, than they sought to bring their kindred and others to him, their exertions were unabating. To this end, they prayed and preached, warned, admonished, and reproved, with all long-suffering, and doctrine. To this end, we see them enduring hunger, thirst; nakedness, bonds, and imprisonments: For them to live was Christ; and deaths the most painful were not shunned, if thereby they might enlarge his empire.
Private christians, felt the same sacred ardour: attachment to the Saviour, led them to forsake all for him; and they were made a gazing stock, both by reproaches and afflictions; and became companions of them that were so used. What a noble army of martyrs, have since died in support of this cause! How many millions of the followers of the Lamb, have laboured, fought, and bled for him! We live in days more friendly to the religion of Jesus, and more favorable to exertions in promoting it. Many of our dear brethren, possessing apostolic, and primitive zeal, have forsaken their country and kindred; braved the dangers of the ocean; exposed themselves to inhospitable climes, and men more inhospitably savage; while many others are zealously endeavouring to spread the savour of Christ's name; in places where he is scarcely known in our own land. And are there any of you who are indulging supineness, and remaining inactive? If you are not alert, what kindred can you claim to prophets, apostles, and martyrs? What relation, can you bear to these servants of our God? Brethren, you are compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses: their faith, and patience, their sufferings and zeal, the fervour of their prayers, the constancy of their courage, the stability of their hope, all call upon you to rouse yourselves from indifference. Were you to think it of no importance that you should be active, you must conclude that they have run in vain; and laboured in vain; and that the cause in which they have sacrificed so much, is not worth such sacrifices. But you disdain the mean, ungenerous thought and say, thou art worthy O Lord, for thou hast redeemed us by thy blood, and we are thine!Remember then,
That there is yet much to be done in extending the kingdom of Christ. You cannot think that we call upon you to exert yourselves without reason, if you look over those almost unbounded fields that are ripening for the harvest. Much has been done in planting and watering, and great has been the increase; yet all that has been gathered, is but, the first fruits of that which remains. The prophecies, and promises assure us, that the whole earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord; but what a different aspect does the world yet wear! The far greater part of it is at this moment inveloped in heathenish darkness, blind superstition, and gross prophanity. How many millions are perishing for lack of knowledge! What multitudes around you, are without God, without Christ, and without hope! Were the missions already established, increased to so many hundreds, there would be room for more. Were you all possessed of thousands, you might expend them in this cause, and regret that you were poor. Were every one of you gifted like Paul, you might exert your powers, and spend your lives in this work, and leave much more to be done by succeeding generations, than you would be able to accomplish. Your consecrated gold, your devoted talents, your unwearied exertions would never perform all which the Lord has designed in the salvation of sinners. There is ample scope for your most enlarged desires, and prayers; room enough for all your energies to be employed. If then, you feel what you ought, you cannot, you will not be inactive.
Let it not be forgotten, that all of you may do something in this good work, and that your obligations to it are great. You naturally expect that your ministers, and gifted brethren should be active; but do not leave them to act alone. For these to be employed, is all that is requisite in the apprehensions of many; but for themselves, they may sit still, they can do nothing, or at most, but be concerned about their own salvation. Selfish, destestable conclusion! Brethren, cherish not a sentiment so unworthy your character, so dishonourable to the Saviour, and so unfriendly to his cause. As the ministers of Christ, there is nothing we would deprecate so much, as luke-warmness in his work; but let not our labours be solitary. Much of our comfort, and usefulness, depends on your uniting with us. We derive energy from your prayers, and zeal; and it too frequently happens, that we are discouraged when we see in you a want of fervour and diligence, and the work of the Lord is hindered. Which of you can say, there is nothing for me to do? I have no talent to improve? What, are you so poor that you have not a mite to cast into the treasury of the Lord? Have you no children, no servants to instruct? Have you no neighbours, no acquaintance without Christ; for whom you may pray, with whom you may converse, or whom you may influence to attend the preaching of the gospel? Have you done all that you can; and is there nothing more for you to do, but with complacency to say, it is finished, and I may take my ease? Oh, no! The most active among you, have cause for painful regret that you have done no more; and while your obligations to greater activity are so many, we call upon you, by the indefatigable life, and dying agonies of the Redeemer; by the unwearied attempts of prophets, apostles, and other servants of the Lord; by the invaluable worth, and perishing condition of numerous immortals; by all the misery of sin, and of hell; and by all the joys of holiness, and of heaven; to be instant in season, and out of season; satisfied that in such a work, a wise and holy zeal, can never be disproportioned in its excess. Think rather when comparing it with the vast object it embraces, how inadequate are its most extended operations. If such ideas are encouraged, they will invigorate your prayers and endeavours; you will not so severely scrutinize the capabilities of others, or watch over their possible deficiencies, as you will regard with jealous anxiety, those opportunities of usefulness that are immediately presented to yourselves; and we shall hope to congratulate you in the greater prosperity of our churches, and the increase of Christ's kingdom. For we observe,
That exertions in his cause were never made in vain. Faith and hope, are of vast importance in the Christian warfare. It was by the former, that the worthies of old, put to flight the armies of the aliens; and of the latter it is said we are saved by hope. That we may do much for God, we should seek those graces whereby others have been succeeded. Nothing will enervate us like despondency; it destroys the very inclination to activity, while it magnifies existing difficulties. This makes the fearful soul to cry, there is a lion in the way; and under its unhappy influences many sit down with the idea that they can do nothing.
Those who attentively read the life of Christ, will perceive that he was constantly reproving the unbelief of his disciples, and urging faith upon them, as absolutely necessary, if they would exert themselves to any good purpose in his cause. When they failed to cure one possessed of a devil, and said to Jesus, why could not we cast him out? He replied, because of your unbelief; for verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove: and nothing shall be impossible to you. It is worthy of remark, that in his final instructions to them, to go and teach all nations, he encouraged them by this assurance, that all power in heaven and earth is given unto him; and by a promise, of lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Brethren, Jesus still reins, and must reign: his command, his power, and his promise are the same. Whoever laboured in his cause in the faith of these without effect? It is true the most useful have been discouraged, and lamented that the fruit of their labours, has not been more proportioned to the magnitude of their object, and their own unbounded desires. This made them sometimes cry, who bath believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? But we must be very ignorant of their history, not to know that they did not run in vain, nor labour in vain. How did the zeal of Elijah prevail to the destruction of the prophets of Baal, and their idols, and groves. What wonders did those champions Ezra, and Nehemiah perform, in restoring the worship of God, and bringing Israel to repentance. How extensively useful were the apostles! In almost every place where they exerted themselves, it was with success; a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. This made Paul say, Now thanks be unto God, who always canseth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.
Nor have succeeding ages been without pleasing instances of this kind, to encourage our faith, and animate our exertions. Did Wickliffe, Luther, Calvin, and other reformers, resist error, and immorality, and bear testimony to the truth in vain? Was it to no purpose, that Brainerd laboured among the Indians in the wilds of America, and the Moravians in the frozen regions of Greenland, and Labradore, or the sultry climes of the western islands, and the south of Africa? Have Whitfield, and Wesley, traversed our own Islands, and extended their itinerancies to the continents of Europe, and America without advantage? No, millions of souls, gathered to our Shiloh by these servants of our God, are now before his throne. Surely, we shall not be chargeable with vanity, if in addition to these, we remind you of a venerated Carey, and his beloved colleagues, who are labouring with success on the plains of Hindostan. Forget not brethren, their zeal, and their faith. How often in the first years of their mission, amidst difficulties, and discouragement, do we hear them saying, we want proofs of conversion, and the darkness which surrounds us is great; but it is the cause of Christ in which we are engaged, and it must prevail. Blessed he God, he has not disappointed their hope, nor has their faith been confounded. Let these things strengthen your hands, and animate you to exertion. We have shewn, that if you have not to fill their sphere of action, you have something to do. Whatsoever you sow, that shall ye reap. Go forth therefore weeping, and bearing precious seed, and you shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing your sheaves with you. An apostle has said, be ye therefore steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; for as much as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
The incalculable benefits resulting from success, should stimulate us. Review Europe, and other parts of the world, where the cause of Christ has been established: amidst all the darkness which remains, and the crimes which exist to be deplored; how much worse would have been their conditions, had not the glorious gospel of the blessed God, been disseminated amongst them. To what do we owe our superior state of civilization, our polished manners, our wiser laws, our progress in arts, and sciences, with all the blessings, and privileges which surround us? Let Infidels oppose the truth, and decry the gospel as they may; to no other cause can effects so salutary be traced. What shall irradiate the numerous tribes who sit in darkness, and the shadow of death? Nothing but the diffusion of this glorious light. What shall emancipate sinners enslaved by satan and their own hearts? Nothing but the publication of that word, which proclaims liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. What shall utterly abolish idolatry, destroy sin, and transform savage men into the likeness of God? Nothing can do it, but the extension of Christ's dominion; and as this prevails, the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed, their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all the holy mountains: for the earth shall, be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. Brethren, what a blessed scene will the world then exhibit! Not only vastly different from what it now does, in its unenlightened regions; but from what we see in its most propitious abodes. And shall not our exertions contribute towards this happy state of things?
Yet important as these blessings appear, in their more visible effects on the external condition of mankind; in the hidden experience of believers, their influence is infnitely surpassed. Man has a soul of vast desires; the gospel presents that, which alone can gratify them, while it exercises his most enlarged capacities. Here is every thing suited to his condition. How suited, in addressing you brethren, surely we need not specify. We need not tell you of the pardon it reveals, the righteousness it exhibits, and the grace it displays: nor yet of that acceptance with God, that meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light, in which the enjoyment of these must issue. As the gospel prevails, and its mighty influence is felt in the ruined soul of man, what a surprising change takes place! We see him no longer an infidel, laughing at revelation! a blind devotee, bound fast in the chains of superstition; a self-righteous pharisee, insulting his maker with his vain pretensions, and claims; a sensualist, wallowing in the mire of sin, and running the giddy round of pleasurable dissipation; or a sordid slave to the mammon of unrighteousness. No, he is renewed in the spirit of his mind; he bows to the authority of God, reveres his laws, and binds the precious book which reveals them to his heart. We behold him filled with devotion, worshipping the Lord in the beauty of holiness, rejoicing in Christ Jesus, and having no confidence in the flesh. He is a holy, happy man, honouring God by his dispositions and conduct; and distinguished by deep humility, lively faith, a peace which passeth all understanding, and a joy that is unspeakable, and full of glory, in the prospect of that grace which is to be brought unto him at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Let us not forget, that a single conversion, often operates on a widely extended scale; and is big with important, and lasting consequences. The renovation of a sinner is important to himself; but though we are too frequently contented with admiring it in the individual, it seldom stops there. Considering what a blasphemer, and persecutor Paul was, and that he madly opposed the cause of Christ; how pleasing was his conquest: he presently preached the faith which he once destroyed, and the kingdom of Christ was enlarged by the salvation of a great multitude through his instrumentality. The effects of his conversion have not yet ceased, nor will they while the world has being. In all cases, the laborious, and useful minister, the self-denying, and zealous missionary, was once an unconverted man: but born again, he strives to enlarge the empire of Christ by bringing others to him. How often has the unbelieving husband been won over to the faith, by the conversation of the believing wife; the child been the means of salvation to the parent, and the parent to the child! Sometimes the awakening of a sinner in a dark village, or town, has introduced the gospel, and enlightened the whole neighbourhood; whereby many have been brought into the fold of Jesus. The kingdom of God is like leaven; in its beginnings small, in its progress certain, and universal in its influence. If you should be the instruments of imparting the grace of Christ but to one soul, that might lead to its communication to a thousand others; and if in the first instance you would be amply rewarded, how much more in all which follows.
Strenuous exertions in the cause of Jesus, have an important infuence on ourselves; and we are personally benefitted bt them. Activity in every instance is of advantage, when the object it embraces is laudable; but how much more in this. The soul of the sluggard, desireth and hath nothing; but the hand of the diligent maketh rich, and he that watereth shall be watered. Thus a good man is satisfied from himself, Christ says, my meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. In this he found pleasure, and by it he was invigorated. Was it not thus with Paul and his fellow labourers? Their work and sufferings were great, and weakened their outward man; but their inward man was renewed thereby daily. Were christians more zealous in the cause of Christ, we should not have to lament theit barrenness so much; nor would they mourn as they now do, their want of evidence and comfort. Who that feels concerned for his glory, is without that abounding consolation which flows from him? Their faith is strengthened, their hope lively, their joy increased, their devotion animated, and their souls blessed. They resemble, not the coldness, and sterility of winter; but the pleasant scene of nature in the spring, or the more fruitful and happy months of summer and autumn. May the consideration of these incalculable benefits, nerve your most active powers and make you strenuous to increase that kingdom, the enlargement of which, will not only impart felicity to others, but fill you with it.
The awful responsibility which attaches to neglect, ought not to be forgotten by you. Every one of us must give account of himself to God, who will reckon with his servants, and say to those who have improved the talents with which they were entrusted, well done good, and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord. Many of you have an important trust committed unto you, in your children, servants, and others; all of you have something to do for God, and men; if you neglect it, how will you answer for it to either? You cannot plead ignorance of the will of God; it is revealed, and commanded with authority. You cannot say that you are unacquainted with the ruin, and misery of sinners; both are incontestable, and allowed by you. It will not do to say you have no encouragement to seek their salvation; these are many, as many as any of the most active servants of the Lord have had. What can you say? That the cause of Christ prevails, and shall triumph? Yes, this is a glorious truth; but it will by no means excuse your criminal indifference to it. Should you assert that the purposes of God, the redemption of Christ, and the influences of the Spirit, were not favourable to their salvation; it would stand you in no stead, nay, it would be impious: neither reason, or revelation, supports the conclusion; these things are not to be the rule of your duty, but the plain and express injunctions of the bible: if with these before you, you neglect to seek the salvation of sinners, how will you be clear of their blood? Will it not be on your own head, and requited at your hands? We allow that if they are not saved, it is their own fault, and their ruin will be on themselves; but if you refrain from useing means for their salvation, you cannot be blameless, and it becomes you to consider, if in that case you are not accessary to their destruction. Awful thought! May it influence you to incessant labour, in seeking to pluck them as brands from the fire.
Finally, Your opportunities for exertion will soon cease. The time is short. You have none to lose; no not a minute to spare. The Saviour said, I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day; the night cometh; in which no man can work. Was he actuated by the consideration of the brevity of life? And ought not you? Let us not sleep as do others; but let us watch and be sober. All that you can do in the cause of Christ, must soon be done. Ere long, you will not have a mite to give for its support, a prayer to put up for its increase, a sinner to warn of his danger, or a saint to encourage in his warfare. Whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do it with all your might; for there is no work, knowledge, or device, in the grave whether you are hastening. There all is silent, and inactive. How many since our last annual address to you, have closed their lives, and their labours; and it is more than probable, that this is the last opportunity we shall have of stirring up many of you; before we again associate, the prevalence of your prayers, the benefit of your exhortations, the influence of your example, and the hope arising from your exertions may terminate. Indulge not in that supineness for a moment, the recollection of which, might embitter your last hours by the reflection, that you have lost seasons which can never recur, in neglecting to promote a cause which is worthy of your whole attention. Rather seek to embrace every mean which offers, and to improve every moment which you can, in doing something for Christ. How pleasing will it be if on a review of an active life, you should be able with the apostle, in the near approach of death to say, I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure it at hand: I have fought a good light, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord the righteous judge shall give unto me, and not to me only, but unto all there also who love his appearing. That you may live zealously attached to the interest of the Redeemer; and die happy in beholding its prosperity, is the fervent prayer of your affectionate brethren for his sake.
Signed by order of the Assembly,
JOHN RYLAND, Moderator.
[From the Western Baptist Association Minutes, 1805, pp. 1-11. From a photocopy at Regents Park College, Angus Library, Oxford, England. - jrd]
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