Editor's note: The "f" is changed to "s" in this document for easier reading; otherwise the spelling is unchanged. — jrd
The Circular Letter
From The Ministers and messengers of the Several Baptist Churches
of the Northhamptonshire Association:
Assemb1ed at Dunstable, June 11, 12, 13, 1805.
By Bro. Blundel
"The Manner of Attending to Divine Ordinances"
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 everlafting misery of such as die impenitent; with the congregational order of the churches, inviolably:
To the several Churches they represent, or from which they have received Letters:
Meeting at Loscoe, Derbyshire; Sutton-Ashfield, and Nottingham, Nottinghamshire; Sheepshead, Leicester, Sutton-in-the-Elms, Arnsby, and Foxton, Leicestershire; Oakham, Rutland; Spalding, Lincolnshire; Gretton, Clipstone, Guilsborough, Braunston, Walgrave, Kettering, Moulton, Northampton, and Road, Northamptonshire; Olney, Buckinghamshire; Dunstable, and Luton, Bedfordshire; St. Albans, Hertfordshire; and Burton-u pon-Trent, Staffordshire.
GRACE BE TO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR FATHER AND FROM JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD!
In the course of our late annual epistles, we have addressed you, on several practical subjects intimately connected with the worship of God. We have explained to you in some degree, the nature of divine ordinances, particularly baptism, church-fellowlhip, and the Lord's supper; and have also urged a few motives to enforce a compliance with these things 1 but it is of great consequence that the spirit in which they are attended to should correspond with their holy nature. Agreeably therefore to the proposal at our last meeting, we now submit to your consideration a few thoughts on THE MANNER OF ATTENDING TO DIVINE ORDINANCES.
All the duties comprehended in these sacred exercises, are reducible to the manner of our approach, and the state of mind in which we engage in them. Some things require attention before hand, and certain hindrances to be avoided, if we would worship the Lord without distraction.
1. Regard must be paid to time. We must remember the sabbath day before it comes, if we would keep it holy. Stated reasons of public worship must be kept in view, and previous arrangements made, in order to meet their approach with comfort, especially with persons concerned in business, or who have the charge or families. For want of this, some are careful and cumbered about many things, when they should he sitting at the feet of Jesus; and are labouring for the bread that perisheth, instead of seeking after that which endureth to everlasling life. Avoid, we beseech you, the unwise and sinful practice of some heads of families, who either busy themselves or their domestics in superfluous cares about providing for the body till they are hindered from coming to the house of God, or are hurried thither at the last moment, so as to render their attendance unprofitable. It was laid to Israel at the close of the week, "To-morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto JEHOVAH: bake that which ye will bake, to-day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over, lay up for you to be kept until the morning:" and though we allow that many things were forbidden on the jewish sabbath which to us are lawful, yet it has been commonly admitted among christians, that no works are lawful to be done on the Lord's day, excepting those of necessity and mercy. But if so, the above precept is still in force; for surely it is not necessary that we should live upon food made ready on the day, and still less that we should make it a day of special indulgence, and rob our servants of that time and those privileges which the Lord has provided for their spiritual improvement. Here also it becomes us to express our disapprobation of a practice too common with some professors, of journeying on worldly business on the Lord's day. We say nothing of those who thus employ the whole of the day, but set them down as heathens. The people we refer to are such as compromise matters. They have a journey of thirty or forty miles before them. 'We can go sixteen miles, say they, before worship, and call and hear Mr. such-a-one. Then we can ride ten miles more between noons, and hear Mr. such-a-one -- and when the afternoon service is ended, we can finish our journey, and be ready for business on Monday morning.' Surely this is not to worship God; but an attempt rather to serve God and mammon. When Joshua put the people to their choice, either to serve the Lord, or, if that seemed evil, to "choose whom they would serve," they seemed to have been shocked at the thought: "God forbid (say they) that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods." But Joshua answered, "Ye cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions, nor your sins." "Nay, (say they) but we will serve the Lord." Then put away (says he) the strange gods that are among you." Josh. xxiv. 15-23.
2. Prayer must precede our attendance at the house of God: but little good is to be expelled without this. The benefit to be derived from public ordinances depends not so much on intellectual capacity, as on the spirituality of our minds; and nothing tends so effectually to promote this as drawing near to God. There is an intimate connexion between the duties of the closet and those of the family, and between these and those of the house of God. The one prepares for the other, and infuses a savour into all that are to follow: it is like the sacred unction previous to an appearance in the holy place. If we can but go as hungering and thirsting after righteousness, we shall be filled; but if as rich and needing nothing, we shall be sent empty away. Much of our barrenness and deadness in holy duties is owing to our not being cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary: I will wash my hands in innocency; so will I compass thine altar, oh Lord! Our souls require to be set in order, before it can be expected that God should dwell in them: the money-changers must be driven out of the temple, and the tables overturned, or it cannot be a habitation for God through the Spirit. If we would arise, and go up to Bethel, we must put away the strange gods: for what fellowship hath light with darkness, or the temple of God with idols?
3. Let your communications by the way be such as become the gospel, and tending to spirituality. There are many in all our congregations who live at a distance from their place of worship, and those who do not, have intervals from the public exercises of the sabbath; and it is of no small consequence how these are occupied. If we be not "in the fear of the Lord all the day long," it is not likely that any part of it will be spent to advantage. If engaged on topics foreign from religion, such talk of the lips tends only to penury. In going or returning from the house of God, if the concerns of this life, trade, politics, or the common news of the day, any farther than to regard the works of the Lord and the operation of his hands, these things will be like the birds of prey which come to devour the sacrifice: the ground that should be prepared for the good seed, will be overspread with briers and thorns, which choak the word, and render it unfruitful. If the interesting truths of the gospel cannot furnish us with matter for meditation, we had better be silent, and not poison the minds of others with our vain and worldly conversation. "Thou shalt not do thine own ways, nor find thine own pleasure, nor speak thine own words, on my holy day; but shalt call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, and honourable."
4. Be careful to attend early, that you may neither have your own minds discomposed, nor interrupt the devotions of others. By unforeseen occurrences, persons may sometimes be prevented from attending public ordinances at the appointed time; but in that case it becomes them to wait at the entrance, if the exercises of worship have commenced, or to make their approach with stillness and solemnity. Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools. Whatever may be said of the place, as having no more holiness than any other, there is certainly a reverence due to the worship of God. For persons coming late, to clash the doors, make a noise with their feet, and rush to their seats, as if they were traversing a common market, is not only an insult on the divine Majesty who has fixed his name there, but also an outrage on all the laws of decency and decorum. Those who are in the habit of entering the house of God after the worship is begun, would do well to enquire whether it be not owing to their hearts not being in it. They certainly appear to act on the principle by which Ananias and Sapphira perished, who kept back a part of the price of their possesiion, while they professed to devote the whole of it to the Lord. Is it not a fearful sign that such worshippers will find themselves too late another day, when those who are ready shall enter in, and the door will be shut!
5. Let your attendance be regular and constant. Appear not as a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home. Dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of thy life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and enquire in his temple. Some can be content with attending once in the day; a sort of afternoon hearers, who devote to the Lord so much of their time as they can spare from personal indulgence, or what is found to be necessary to keep up the credit of their profession. Others, on occasion of a slight indisposition, or any other trivial inconvenience, consider themselves as furnished with the plea of exemption; or if the affliction be of a more serious nature, it takes away their heart from God, and they can scarcely forgive the severity of his dispensations. Some who have appeared to be good people, yet seem to have strange ideas of the duties of their profession. When first awakened, and joined in fellowship with a christian church, they called the sabbath a delight, holy and honourable; were regular in their attendance at church-meetings, and at the table of the Lord; discovered a love to the brethren, and zeal for the cause of Christ: but by and bye their place is empty, or only occasionally occupied, whether at the foot of the throne, or at the table of commemoration. They have fallen back into the rear of the army, acting only as subalterns, and scarcely ever muster with the host of God to battle. And some, to their shame be it spoken, have been known to absent themselves from the ordinances of Christ for months, and even years together, who notwithstanding, to the shame of their connexions, have been retained in a slate of nominal membership. We hope, brethren, that you have not so learned Christ; and that neither a sense of duty nor of interest would suffer you thus to forsake the assembling of yourselves together; or if any of you do so, that your brethren will not suffer sin in this manner to rest upon you.
6. Observe a becoming posture in the house of God, that your whole deportment may correspond with the solemnities of public worship. Though mere bodily service profiteth not, yet we should serve the Lord with our bodies, as well as our spirits, which are his. There is an outward behaviour in these things which is an honour to religion, in the eyes of the world; and there is a manner which tends to render it ridiculous, and bring it into disgrace. Our gesture is generally considered as expressing something of the state of our minds. There is a posture which we call indolent and careless: the reason is, we consider it as indicating an inattentive and uninterested state of mind. Various are the exercises in which you engage. To kneel or stand seems most naturally to express a holy reverence, in the solemn duty of prayer. When Jehoshaphat and his friends engaged in a social act of religious worship, we are informed, that "the Levites stood up, to praise the Lord God of Israel with a loud voice on high." In listening to the ministry of the word, it is not unbecoming to sit or stand, as may be found most eligible. Throughout the whole, let a sacred reverence fill your minds, arising from a devout recollection, that you are under an eye which inspects the secrets of your hearts; engaged in a work in which you are to compare what you hear with the oracles of God, and attending to truths in which you have an important, an eternal concern. Such a frame of mind will not only correct a roving imagination, and check a wandering eye, but lead to a demeanour becoming the chriftian character. And if it he proper to keep your foot when going to the house of God, is it not equally to when you retire at the close of the service? True, some have adopted a practice of frequently withdrawing, when the sermon is ended: but surely those reasons ought to be weighty which can justify a conduct apparently so irreverent towards God, as well as rude before men. And farther, to see the haste which some are in to be gone, when the service is finally closing, is exceedingly unlovely. Perhaps one is reaching his hat, and another opening the door of his pew, before the solemn benediction is fully delivered. One would almost think that such must be of the family of Doeg the Edomite, of whom it is recorded, that he was "detained before the Lord." Brethren, let these things never be said of you; but whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, think on these things.
7. Guard against drowsiness at the time of worship. This is a pradtice so disgraceful that we cannot mention it without considerable uneasiness, and should be glad to see it banished from all our congregations. Should an earthly king grant an audience to his subjects, and that on matters of high importance; what would be thought of their conduct, if during the interval any of them were to indulge in listlessness, and were seeking for repose? And what shall be said of that worshipper, who in the very act of holding communion with the King immortal and invisible; in the very act of petitioning for his life, or hearing what God the Lord shall speak, is found in a sleeping posture? When he enters the sanctuary, does he indeed believe that the Lord is there? That it is none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven? There may be cases indeed, in which this dulness and heaviness may become, in a degree, involuntary: like the disciples in the garden, when their eyes were heavy with sleep, the spirit may be willing, while the flesh is weak. The infirmities of age, and those arising from sickness or debility, may claim some forbearance. But even in that case, it may be asked, if it must needs be so, have ye not beds at home to sleep in? Why then profane the house of God?
8. Avoid all complimentary attentions at the time of worship, by shewing respect to the persons of men. It is not the design of christianity to withhold honour from those to whom honour is due; but there is a time for all things, and for every purpose under the sun. If it would be unseemly in the attendants of a king to be passing compliments on each other in the royal presence, it must be much more so for the servants of God to be so employed, while paying their homage before his throne. These things may be very proper in the departments of civil society; but should be banished from the house of the Lord. There all are on a level: all are brethren. "If ye fulfil the royal law, according to the scriptures, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: but if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors." A state of mind which cherifhes worldly distinctions among christians, is inconsistent with brotherly affection, a principle which sweetens and endears the exercises of social worship: and that which is unfriendly to the love of the brethren, is equally so to the love of God, without which all religion is mere hypocrisy.
9. Preserve a becoming solemnity in your attendance on divine ordinances, and carefully avoid every tendency to lightness or indifference. As to those who make the house of God a theatre of levity and buffoonery, we know not how they will answer it another day. Let us be careful that there be nothing amongst ourselves that is inconsistent with that deep seriousness which becomes the worshippers of the most high God. We may serve him indeed with holy freedom; but it must also be with fear: and if we rejoice, it must be with trembling. We are invited to meet the Lord on a throne of grace, and may therefore come with boldness: but the new and living way by which we approach, and the ground we occupy as petitioners, have been consecrated for us at no less expence than that of the blood of Jesus. We have also an advocate with the Father, that his terrors may not make us afraid: but let us not shame his intercession by trifling formality, or profane indifference. That be far from us; oh Lord! "Holiness, becometh thine house for ever." When an angel appeared to Daniel, he stood trembling, and there remained no strength in him: and when one like unto the Son of Man appeared to John, he fell at his feet as dead. "Who then would not fear thee, oh thou King of nations; for unto thee doth it appertain!" When the Lord spake to Job out of the whirlwind, he abhorred himself, and repented in dust and ashes: and when he appeared to Isaiah, "sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple," the prophet cried out, " Woe is me; for I am undone!" And shall we not also tremble at his word, and be filled with solemn awe when we enter the habitation of his holiness! Was Uzzah smitten, who but lightly touched the ark? Let us beware of laying unhallowed hands on sacred institutions. Did fire from heaven consume the sons of Aaron for their temerity? Let us tremble as we approach the altar. Oh let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire!
10. Do all in dependence on divine influence. Go to holy ordinances in the strength of the Lord God, and in the multitude of his tender mercies. Self-sufficiency not only disqualifies us for his service, but deprives us of his blessing. If in holy duties we depend on our zeal, our talents, or religious habits, we shall be left to serve alone, and it will come to nothing: Ichabod will be written upon all we do. If in seeking heavenly instruction, we be wise in our own eyes, we shall not find it. The Lord of heaven and earth "hideth these things from the wise and prudent, and revealeth them unto babes." If in drawing near to him, we depend not on the holy Spirit to help our infirmities, we shall not know what to pray for as we ought. When we are the most confident of success, and have the highest expectations, that is seldom the time for God to work. The Midianites are not to be subdued when Gideon's army is strong, but when its numbers are reduced. The temple shall be built: but it shall "not be by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts," that the head-stone thereof may be brought forth with shoutings, Grace, grace unto it! When all self-sufficiency is renounced, and we realize our own weakness, then are we strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Hence the Lord often blesses his servants when their hands are feeble, and their hearts discouraged, that his glory may rest upon them. "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might, he encreaseth strength."
11. Finally, brethren, do all to the glory of God. We are very much in danger of being influenced by other motives than those arising from pure disinterested love. Education or example may have its effect, or the authority of others over us. A sense of propriety or interest may direct our attendance at the house of God, and habit may render it agreeable. The connexions we have formed, either of a civil or religious kind, or the obligations of our profession may require the observance of gospel ordinances. But, there is nothing of the love of God in all this; nor will it be accepted at our hands. Providence having placed us within the sphere of certain religious principles, it becomes us also to beware that we do not take them upon trust; but that we adopt them on the fullest conviction of their divine authority. Nor is this all: we are in danger of attending to divine appointments rather from an idea of their fitness and propriety, than as constituting the will of God concerning us. It is good indeed to see that what he commands is a reasonable service: but that is not to be the ground of our submission; for that would be a subrnission to reason rather than to God. It is with obedience as it is with faith: it must have an immediate respect to the will of God as its proper object, and not to any secondary ideas of fitness as to what is revealed. It is this principle only that constitutes obedience, and that gives unto the Lord the glory due unto his name. Moreover: some good people are apt to make their own comfort the immediate end of their religious duties; and if this be not obtained, they excuse themselves in neglecting them. Hence also some are in the habit of absenting themselves from the Lord's table on occasion of any temporary depression, or darkness of mind. If they were seriously asked, whether they doubted the truth of the everlasting gospel; whether they were weary of the Redeemer's yoke; whether they wished ill to his cause; whether they were indifferent towards it; in short, whether they would be willing to be treated by their brethren as his enemies? Possibly they would feel but little, if no difficulty, in answering, No! But where is the consistency then of standing aloof from his ordinances? It is not by a neglect of duty that we thall prove to ourselves, or others, that we are believers.
This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me. And though the institutions of Christ are designed for our edification and comfort; yet not for that end only. They are the exercise of authority as well as love, and require for that reason first of all to be obeyed. Let us but seek, to glorify him, and our own comfort will follow as a consequence. Let us but keep his commandments, and we shall eat of the tree of life; revere his authority, and he will take care of our interest. Unto him be glory in the church, by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end! Amen.
B. CAVE, Moderator. ___________
1 See Letters for the year 1800 to 1803.
[From Northhampton Association Minutes, 1805, pp. 1-8. Photocopied from the original at Regents Park Baptist College, Angus Library, Oxford England. - jrd]
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