The elders and messengers of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, sitting at New Britain, the 1st, 2d, 3d, and 4th of October, 1805.
To the churches they represent, send greeting.
Beloved Brethren, — In conformity to our usual custom of annually addressing you on some important religious subject, which may serve to promote your doctrinal knowledge, as well as to excite you to the practice of every Christian virtue; we shall call your attention, at this time, to the important object of Brotherly Love.
Though every suitable respect is to be paid to all men, yet there is a peculiar affection due to every believer, which is called brotherly love, and which Peter enforces in his exhortation to "Love the brotherhood," 1 Peter ii. 17. This, as one of the relative duties which Christians owe to each other, stands pre-eminent in the word of God. From the repeated exhortations to this duty, and the variety of forms in which it is enforced in the Bible, we believe the inference, of its being of the first magnitude, is not inconclusive. Moses gives the sum of all moral precepts in the ten commandments; and Christ comprehends them all in two. The first and principal one is, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, soul and mind." The second is like and subordinate unto it, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." And then he declares that "on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets," Matthew xxii. 37-39. Hence we see the propriety of Paul's declaration, that "love is the fulfiling of the law," Romans xiii. 10. For every duty required of us is to be performed from a principle of love to God, as the exciting cause, and in obedience to his revealed will, as the rule of all our actions; therefore, this is called "THE FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT."
The first table of the law, containing our more immediate duty to God, is here, by our Saviour, comprehended in this one sentence, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, and mind." The second table, which contains our duty to our neighbor is also comprised in this single sentence, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Hence we are authorized to conclude, that, though all our duties are to be performed from a principle of love to God; yet, love to the brethren, abstractedly considered, is the source from which arise all the other relative duties we owe unto them. For as love to God is that active principle which constrains us to delight in his worship — which makes the "ways of wisdom to be ways of pleasantness, and all her paths peace;" so love to man is that principle of action, which compels us not only to fly from the thought of doing him an injury, but prompts us to give relief when in distress, and render him happy. "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore, love is the fulfiling of the law," Romans xiii. 10. This is what James calls the Royal Law. "If ye fulfil the royal law according to the Scriptures, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well," James ii. 8. And granting we are to take this command in an unlimited sense, to extend to every individual of the human race; yet we still contend for the proposition before advanced, that there is a pectuiar affection due to the children of God. The apostolic advice on this subject runs thus, "As we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith," Galatians vi. 10. We are to love all men, as men; though some, by their abominable practices, forfeit their respect, and bring upon themselves merited contempt. But Christians are to be loved, as the adopted children of God, and for his image which they bear.
The obligations we are under to love God and his children are inseparable. It is therefore folly in the extreme for anyone to deceive himself under an idea that he loves God, when at the same time he has no disposition to love, and do good to his people. For says John, "This commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God, love his brother also." And, if a man say, "I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar," 1 John iv, 20, 21, From this, and similar language used in the Scriptures, it is evident, that brotherly love is an indispensable duty upon all the followers of the Lamb.
Brotherly love is not only an incumbent duty upon all believers, but it is a very comfortable evidence of their gracious state; for says the apostle, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren: he that loveth not his brother abideth in death," l John iii, 14. From this passage it appears evident that all Christians, from the circumstance of their loving the brethren, may draw the comfortable and assured conclusion, that they have passed from spiritual death to spiritual life, or in other words, that they are regenerated or born of God, and made heirs of eternal glory. As an evidence of gracious affections, it is not common for this to stand alone; but is generally attended with other distinguishing marks whereby a person may judge of his gracious state. But we still think that there are seasons when almost every other mark is lost, and when this is the Christian's principle, if not only support. And we believe it to be abundantly sufficient to preserve him from sinking in despair.
We will review the delightful passage. Figure to yourselves a person just made acquainted with his dreadful situation as a sinner - condemned by the law of God - a load of guilt upon his soul - ready, in his own apprehension, to drop into endless misery - but waiting with an anxiety bordering on despair, to receive some comfort from the word of God, querying with the beloved disciple as he delivers these words, in the following manner, "We know," says John, — 'what,' says the disconsolate sinner, 'do you know?' "That we have passed from death unto life." O! happy saint! do you certainly know that this is your situation? A knowledge this, worth ten thousand worlds! would to God that I had but the smallest gleam of hope, that such a blessing belonged to me! But let me ask, 'How do you know it?' "Because we love the brethren," O! beloved of the Lord! do you say that this is a certain sign of such an important event as that of having passed from death unto life? Yes; the Holy Ghost instructs me to assert it for the benefit of his people; and you may rest assured that he who truly loves his brother hath been delivered from death, and hath a right to all the blessings of the covenant of grace. And to check the presumption of hypocrites, I am further instructed, by the same authority, to declare that "he that loveth not his brother abideth in death."
Brotherly love is not only an evidence to ourselves that we are born of God, but also to others: For says Christ, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another," John xiii, 35. It is only when Christians are wearing Christ's livery, and completely equipped with the gospel armor, that they appear "fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners," Canticles vi. 10. It is only those whose general conversation is such as becometh the gospel, that appear respectable to the eyes of mankind. For the path of the Christian is so plainly pointed out in the word of God, that even the wicked world can readily discern the least deviation in their steps. And when professors allow themselves to fall in with the vain and sinful customs of the world, and especially when they are contentious, and give themselves up to backsliding and evil-speaking, one of another, they become a stumbling-block to young converts, and a laughing stock to infidels. Let us, therefore, be exceeding careful, in all our conduct, to "give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully," 1 Timothy v. 14.
As every thing that is valuable may be counterfeited — and as there may be danger of the love we profess to have for the brethren being spurious, (and therefore no certain mark of our sonship,) we will describe the nature and effects of brotherly love, that you may be able to determine what degree of consolation you may draw from it.
With respect to its nature. It is a holy love — of the same kind that is in God himself: for it is a grace communicated from him, therefore must be the same in kind, though not in degree. Here we will just observe, that the love of God is the display of his attribute of goodness which delights in the happiness of its object. And though God is good to all his creatures, "making his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sending rain on the just and on the unjust," (Matthew v. 45;) yet his approving, everlasting, and unchangeable love is only placed upon his elect ones. These, as sanctified, and especially as having the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed unto them, Jehovah beholds with complacency, and delights to do them good. Of this he has given the highest proof, in the gift of his Son - and, with him, he will freely give them all things that will be to their advantage, Romans viii. 32. "The Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly," Psalm lxxxiv. 11. And brotherly love, having a divine origin, must be an holy affection — and, like that of Jehovah, will fix upon suitable objects, and delight to promote their happiness.
Our love to God will be manifested by our obedience, (John xiv. 15,) and our love to his people, by our exertions to do them good. It is in vain to say we love them, and at the same time be in the habit of spreading, and perhaps magnifying, their faults. Had we that "fervent charity among ourselves," to which we are exhorted by Peter, it would "cover the multitude of sins," 1 Peter. iv. 8. It is incongruous to suppose we love them, if, having the means, we withhold relief when they need it. Or as John expresses it, "whoso hath this worlds good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" 1 John iii. 17. Dear brethren, "let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth." Let us evidence our love, by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and cheerfully rendering them all the service in our power. In this way, let us manifest to the world that our professions are not mere empty sound; and give them reason to say, like the heathen in former days, "See how these Christians love one another."
There are many important duties that Christians owe to each other, the source of which is love. And where this is active, those will be performed. Some of them are of a negative kind, and are essential to the peace and prosperity of the church. Such are the exhortations to avoid all unprofitable debates, envying, backbiting, tattling, and busying ourselves in other people's matters. If we possess this active principle, instead of being guilty of these, we shall be found in the practice of those positive duties enjoined upon us. Such as relieving the distressed — bearing with one another - praying with and for one another - promoting peace and harmony - watching over each other - and where any are wandering out of the way, endeavoring, in the spirit of meekness, to restore such - and by every other means in our power, advancing the interest of the Redeemer's kingdom, and promoting the happiness of its subjects.
Dear brethren, if you are found faithful in the cheerful performance of these duties, you are in possession of one bright evidence that you are the children of God, and heirs of eternal glory, in their pilgrimage towards their future inheritance, "standing fast in one spirit, with one mind affectionately striving together for the faith of the gospel," (Philippians i. 27;) and uniting against their common enemies. "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity," Psalm cxxxii, 1.
This precious grace will extend itself to all who bear the divine image. It knows no bounds till it meets with unworthy objects. For as he who truly loves God, loves him as possessing all the perfections of Deity; so will he love all those who bear the marks of being born of God, of all nations, languages and denominations whatever. And those who live nearest to the Lord in all holy conversation, together with a zealous attachment to the pure principles of religion, will be most loved by all the true followers of Christ.
We shall close with the apostolic exhortation, "Add to your faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity. For if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ," 2 Peter i, 5-8. "Finally, brethren farewell: be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you," 2 Corinthians xiii, 11. Amen.
THOMAS B. MONTANYE, Moderator. WILLIAM STAUGHTON, Clerk. ===========
[From Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1805. — Scanned by Jim Duvall]
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