Editor's note: The fs are changed to ss to make the document easier to read.
THE CIRCULAR LETTER FROM THE
Elders, Ministers, & Messengers of the
Several Baptist Churches of the
Assembled at Yeovil in Somersetshire,
May 24th & 25th, 1809
by J. Cherry
Wellington of Somersetshire
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 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.
ANOTHER of our annual associations we have been favoured with in peace and pleasure, while war, confusion, and devastation continue to prevail all around; but are not permitted to come within our highly favoured island. The information received from the churches, as usual, has been various; some some stationary, some apparently on the decline. We sincerely sympathize with the latter, and all our prayers should be united in their behalf. The stationary will remember they cannot, in the nature of things continue so, they must increase, or they must decrease; and the prospering in numbers will, we hope, on this very account, be the more felicitous to advance individually in true, pure, spiritual prosperity. Upon the whole view of our immediate connexion, Blessed be the head of the Church, we see ourselves advancing, through his grace. Speedily may Jerusalem be the happiess of the world, and the earth be covered with the glory of the Receemer's Name. Nothing will be
more conducive to this - to an impressive recommendation of his religioun, and even to the prosperity of the doctrines of Christianity in the hearts of its professors, than for them truly and visibly to enjoy the religion they profess.
It is not to be wondered at, that so little of this kind of influence exists, and that no more of so desirable and gracious an effect is produced. It is not be be expected, if christians are nothing better than the slaves of conscience, and of fear, apparently actuated by compulsion, or under no purer an influence than what the people of the world, from what they see, persuade themselves, they can trace to the impressions of education and connexions, to phlegmatic habit of body or a melancholy construction of mind. It is therefore, Religious Brethren, your happiness, your honour, the glory of Christ, and your successful recommendation of the gospel, we consult, by placing before you, which we do with most affectionate solicitude, the subject of Religious Joy for your consideration.
In pointing out to you more clearly what we mean by it, we refer you to the abundant provision made for your present, as well as your future felicity, in that system of glad tidings, the glorious gospel of the Blessed God. Some of the interesting particulars of which are The perfect satisfaction made to your God for your transgressions and depravities - The divine display in this, of free, complete, and unchangeable pardoning mercy - The present and eternal acceptance of your persons and services, before an infinitely holy, moral governor and Judge. - In this, your absolute and immutable justification, without the deeds of the law, as the ground of it - A divine, yet personal title to endless happiness and glory, which hell cannot, and heaven will not dispute; which He who will judge and dispose of all the generations of men will delight to acknowledge - An unlimited approportion of all the unbounded merits of your Divine Mediator to yourselves, on all occasions, and in every time of need - A surprising number of the promises of the Diety, containing grace and glory, and every good thing, founded not upon your righteousness; but to make them immutable as the attributes of God, and free as the air you breathe, founded upon his righteousness of Him who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever: and for your further satisfaction, confirmed by the publick, the solemn, the deliberate oath of Heaven. - Add to this, that bright hope devoted to your service, which most acceptably and immoveably lays hold of immorality, appoiinted to be the resident of your mortal bosoms, while you are here below, as an indubitable earnest of the endless felicity both of soul and body. To meet the whole of your anxieties, and inexhaustable source of sanctifying influence, which shall purify you throughout, in body, soul, and spirit, and present you before the presence of the Divine Glory, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; which shall surely finish the work it has begun by finally making you holy even as God is holy.
These are the joyous truths of the religion you profess, which under the direction of unerring wisdom and almighty love, are made the most prominent, the characteristic doctrines of the gospel of your salvation. Here are sources of satisfaction - streams of most pure delight and designed by your Heavenly Father now to make glad the city of God, in which you dwell. These, beloved Brethren, are the holy pleasures we wish you abundantly, and increasingly to possess; which Divivne Grace invites you to possession of, as what are necessary for the actual enjoyment of the religion you profess, for your spirituality in a sensual world, your vigour in the service of your Lord and Master, your honouring him zealously; for increasing your attachment to him, and for your recommending him successfully to the world around you.
Deem us not trifling with you then, if we ask you, Are you willing to be happy? Were it enquired of us in reply, who is not willing? our answer immediately and particularly would be, all who are not happy. Are not the doctrines we have specified realities? Let God be true and every man a liar. Are they not sweetly and suitably calculated for joy above every other system, and all other sentiments? Can your God intend to mock you by such an exhibition of felicity? Are they in the place of the forbidden fruit, delightful in the eye, much to be desired, and yet divinely prohibited? Be aware Brethren, that every attempt to justify your ignorance of them, and to excuse their absence from your hearts, countenances such interrogations. If you refuse to commit yourselves upon the free mercy of your God - if unhappily disinclined to live by implicit faith upon the full and positive declaration of Jehovah - yet acknowledge your obligation, and justify his real and unbounded grace. You say, you fear presumption, you are unworthy, it is not fit you should rejoice thus in God, it would be countenancing sin. Brethren, give way to no such deception. If your principal sensation is fear, it is in reality a fear to venture wholly on the plan of sovereign goodness; an inclining of soul to other supports, and to other principles of action. But it is not fairly to be suspected, from what may be observed in many an instance of this kind, the predominant influence is not a fear of the freeness of divine mercy, in the plan of joy thorugh Jesus Christ; but no other than a distaste to spiritual glorifications, and a prevailing disposition for a life of sensuality? Do you say, you fear presumption and yet will not submit your understanding to the wisdom of God? While you profess to fear an unhallowed approach to the joys of a present salvation, you refuse to believe the sworn sufficiency of divine grace. Only believe, is the simple and unalterable proposal. It is the plan of God, and therefore must be best for thesecurity of every interest, human and divine, for which you profess to be concerned. There is, therefore, more presumption to object to it on any ground, than there could be in any sinner's sincerely embracing the
whole of the consolations of the gospel. Brethren, we hear our Master's feet behind us, while we say to you, If you would prove your integrity, in the desire you profess to be holy, lay your hearts entirely bare to all the purifying influences of the joys of your religion. It is under their impression, that the christian, like a man in earnest looks not at the things which are seen, which are temporal, but at the things which are not seen, which are eternal.
What an unhappy view have they of the sovereignty of God, who plead this as the justification of their unacquaintedness with true religious joy, and as the only reason of that bondage which their minds must necessarily be in. They apply truth to a base purpose, when they say, by way of excuse for their infidelity, my being happy in God dies not depend on me. I can have no objection to it, but He in whom are all springs, will dispense his favours on whom, and when He will. I can neither create or increase faith in the divine promises. It is He [who] must determine my happiness or misery. Brethren, the benefit of truth depends upon its being used in a right manner; when erroneously applied, it is prostituted, and becomes a favour of death unto death. The application we now instance is pernicious and melancholy in the extreme. It makes the declarations of the sovereignty of divine grace contradict the indisputable invitations of God's word; than which every one may see nothing can be farther from the purpose of the omniscient Author of both. The immediate consequences of making such a use of the important revelation of the absolute independence of God, is, That his precepts and commands are impertinent - his admonitions and invitations, impositions and mockery. Who can bear such a horrid conclusion? With a degree of agony, on account of the delusion they are under, we ask such quibblers, For what can the abundant provision of rich consolation be exhibited to the view of wretched mortals, which is exhibited in the gospel, accompanied with the most pressing invitations, but to excite immediate desire - to generate expectation - to stimulate effort - to determine the believer to prosecute his application until like a prince he hath power with God, and hath prevailed. The glorious doctrines of our creed, exhibiting joy that is unspeakable and full of glory, must have been intended to excite to disappointment - to sharpen the stings of despair - to make a hell instead of a heaven, and this particularly in the feelings of the convinced, sincere, and humble mind; unless it is true respecting the joy provided in them, Ask and it shall be given you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened. Remember the canaanitish woman. That view of any one part of divine truth which makes another appear unnecessary and contradictory, must be an unjust one. Make haste then Brethren, to sacrifice those apprehensions which prevent your feeling the force of aminating example, divine admonition, exhortation, precept, invitation, and immediate promise - that shut up your hearts from every gracious influence,
in order, as it should seem, that God may have the honour of breaking them open - that exclude religious joy from them, with the view that in some succeeding time it may be forced upon you. Behold, now is the accepted time. The consolations of the gospel are presented to give you the satisfaction you need every day, and will more urgently need, as you advance forward through this state of uncertainty and mortality. They are provided in order that like the children of the true God, like joint heirs with Christ, like persons who know the doctrines of the gospel to be divine, its grace free, its promises certain, its prospects immortal realities, you may be seen by all to enjoy the happy religion you profess.
There are some who seem to endeavour, under a dispensation of love and joy, to reconcile their consciences to gloom, their feelings to slavish fear, and their powers to religious drudgery, by presuming that such circumstances are necessary to keep them humble, dependant, and cautious. Do such persons mean that the experience of unmerited goodness will make them haughty, and a sense of it ungrateful?
True, there are persons so habituated to the circumstances and manners of poverty, that to enrich them would overturn the little happiness they possess. There are others who are so fitted to the subjection, restraint, and occupations of slavery, that give them their liberty and make them independent, and you make them vicious. But let any one in faithfulness, intimate that the minds of the professors we speak of, are of such a disposition in a religious view, and immediately they resent it. Such considered the great apostle of the gentiles to be their enemy, because he hinted to them a similar truth, and assured them of the meanness and inconsistency of their desiring to remain in bondage of mind, when Jesus Christ had prepared liberty for them, and called them to it. But such christians mistake a spirit of dejection for the grace of humility, and slavish fear for godly jealousy. Who will dispute the genuine humility of David, when under the weight of Divine goodness, he went and sat himself down on the ground before the Lord, and with the most beautiful simplicity said, Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me to this? The whole of this instance, is one of the finest specimens ever given by a man, of humility, gratitude, devotion, and joy; and all the result, and natural result, of a perception of the unmerited display of the grace of God to him. Beggarly elements are not at all caqlculated to prduce any such effects. If religious pain and grief are to be voluntarily submitted to, as necesary for the believer, it is a pain and grief that may consistently be sought after. It is that pain which arises from an increasing perception of remaining personal depravity. It is that pungent grief which is produced by a sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the exceeding grace of God, in a crucified Redeemer. Here sufficient sources of religious pain and grief to answer
all the purposes of such feelings. But this distress is so far from being a[d]verse to the joys of a divine salvation, that it tends to life and peace. It increases the vigour and delicacy of the enjoyment a soul has in his belief of the reconciliation of God to him. It raises his feelings up to true felicity, who notwithstanding his unworthiness and sin, trusts in the declarations of free and sovereign mercy, and lays hold of the hope set before him in all justifying righteousness of the Son of God. Thus it was with David when he said, Altho' my house be not so with God, yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure. Therefore Paul, in the one view, was so distressed as to cry out, O wretched [man] that I am, who shall deliver me? In another, and at the same time, he exclaims, I thank God through Jesus Christ. Who is he that condemneth? it is God that justifieth - Nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God. Bring the seventh and eighth chapters to the Romans into a contrast before your mind's eye, Brethren, that they may illustrate this interesting subject, of what should be your chief distress and joy, in a manner that you shall never more forget. You have been wrong in indulging a thought of the necessitty of your beng under slavish fear, and in spiritual bondage. You have misinterpreted the text which says, Blessed is the man that feareth always. Jesus Christ came to deliver them that through fear of death, have been all their lifetime subject to bondage.. His salvation is a present one. Let this truth lie on your mind. The Almighty, and ever willing Saviour says, Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will - Mark that - I will give you rest. Will you not place that confidence in the declaration of the Son of God, which you are every day giving to the words of your fellow creatures? But you have been rebelliously in the wrong, Brethren, in concluding that your slavish fears were necessary to keep you humble, dependant, and watchful, because, while you have been voluntarily resigning those consolations which are neither few nor small, you have at the same time been labouring assiduously to create comforts of your own, and seeking the gratification of your souls in temporal objects. Not merely indulging, but actively, if not intentionally, cultivating an indisposition to a life of faith in the Mediator. This is always the conduct of a professor not in the enjoyment of the gospel. Yet, if you are the chosen of God, and called, you should be fully aware that when he suffered you to spend any of the time of your sojourning here in this manner, it was that the backslidder in heart might be filled with his own ways. If you persist, God will teach you better by terrible things in rghteousness, and make you a warning to those around you: for it is an unalterable divine appointment, that the just shall live by faith.
Why will you pretend to be surprised if your hearts are cold to divine things in general, your spirits feeble and reluctant in the
exercises of religion, your worship little better, if any, than mere formality, when you rejoice not personally and privately in Christ Jesus. It was for the purpose of giving you a relish to every thing divine, to animate the dull and unfeeling mind, to invigorate every faculty in the ways of God, to make you mount up as on wings of eagles, to run without weariness, and walk without fainting, that this joy was purchased. It is unreasonable, in any case, to expect that a man shall be able to persevere with zeal and energy in that business, in which he finds no pleasure. It is more unreasonable, and entirely unscriptural, to expect that a religious professor can continue to bear up against the two opposing multitudinous hosts of depravity, the one within, the other without, which he has to contend with, and overcome too, unless he lay hold of the joys set before him in the gospel.
The religion of the Gracious Redeemer, and particularly that Calvinistic view of it which you have adopted, is charged by the worldling, with gloom and melancholy; than with, from the beginning of the world to the present time, there never was a lie more untrue, or one more contradictory to the very nature of things. But, Brethren, we have to tell you, as with the voice of God, it is some of you, the professed followers of a faithful and tender Saviour, who are accountable for this unjust charge upon it. By living without realizing, without appropriating the exquisite felicities of your religion to your selves, have you not brought this unfounded scandal upon its name? It is impossible that melanchology can be an attribute of christianity. As soon c an the sun be the cause of darkness, as gloom be the effect of an implicit faith in the glorious gospel of the Blessed God. It is impossible that glad tidings of superior joy can ever be announced to the world than those which promise eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf, feet to the lame, health to the soul of the sick, life to the dead, peace to the distracted, purity to the polluted, a hope full of immortality to men dying in the dark and in despair, everlasting pardon to the guilty and condemned, acceptance and communion, with God to transgressors and rebels, heaven to children of wrath, unchangeable and unbounded divine love, and all without money and without price. - This is your profession. Are there any you should permit to exceed you in joy - in the love and ardour of your exlcamation, Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and good will toward men?
Considering the reality of these doctrines, and the supreme delights which result from their being believed with the heart, the thought of there being even one among you, who has never decisiely experienced their rich consolation, who has never exulted in the joy of pardoned sin, raises a painful anxiety in our minds concerning him. He is
like one deaf in the middle of harmony - blind in the midst of glory, surrounded with substance, but a stranger to the relish of enjoyment. Such a case should be seriously examined into. Shall we think in a manner which attributes imposition or caprice to our God? Should the miseries of life flow in like a flood on a mind in such a situation, should guilty apprehensions suddenly lay hold of his trembling spirit, from which he is not secure, he has not entered the appointed refuge. Should confusion or derangement of intellect complete his calamity, he would necessarily excite our compassion, but the connexions of his case should be traced throughout; they must be impartially considered, that the whole may be understood. Prejudiced minds impute the melancholy consequences to religion, but if religion must be connected with the circumstance, it is a duty of justice to remember, it is not the religion that we profess, which is entitled to such an imposition, but the religion which they profess, who are the authors and propagators of the scandal. It is not the religion of the gospel which excites fear, which generates or countenances dismal forebodings, which thunders condemnation. It is the religion of the law to which such distressing imputations belong - the religion of those, who being ignorant of God's righteousness, go about to establish their own, and necessarily fail. The religion of the gospel dissipates fear, inspires confidence, and whispers peace.
Brethren, we have no obligations superior to that of commending unto sinners the great love wherewith God hath loved them, of honouring before men Jesus our Lord, who gave hiimself a ransom for us that he might bring us, all unworthy as we are, into the profession of a glorious liberty, honour, and happiness. This honouring of Christ is the eye of the world, and persuading others to embrace the felicity to be found in him, that they may be determined to glorify him too, must be one of the first wishes of our hearts. But our invitation will not be attended to, our wish will fall like water spilt on the ground, while we continue to exhibit his service as merely a service of conscience - while our spirit, our feelings, our manners, in religion, intimate that we are religious through fear, that we continue so through compulsion. But let it be clearly perceived in us, and by us, that wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness; let us visibly shew that we have, joy in them; that we have greater satisfaction from the gospel than we can have from any thing else; that its gracious doctrines have, really have an exhilirating influence upon us; cheer us in tribulation, and give us joy even in death; and then it is not the charge of enthusiasm, laid upon the the christian's felicity, that will prevent the world from looking into it. The men of it are too much familiarised with enthusiasm in their own pursuits, their thrist for hapiness is too strong to be continually kept back, by such imperitence, from what they see, by the actual experience of others, to be conductive to satisfaction and joy. Their eye will be allured, their
minds will be conciliated, they will begin to think respectfully of the source of our joys; and to attribute that grace to jesus which he possesses, "Whom will no pleasure draw?"
Brethren, recollect also, as to yourselves; you find carnalizing influences of this world powerful; your personal depravities numerous and strong; your adversary going about, like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour or tempt. By one or the other of these you are continually harassed; it may be, sometiimes you are unhappily overcome, or often enslaved by the fear that this will be the result; that you shall apostatize, bring a disgrace upon the cause and name of Christ, confusion upon his church, and make a wreck of your religious profession; but did you implicitly embrace the joys of salvation - were these your continual resort - altho' your temptations might not be less numerous, they would be comparatively weak; often would you feel that happy, noble consciousness, expressed by Paul, when, in order to declare a privilege, not locked up for the use of a few favourites only, but belonging universally to the character of a child of God, he exclaimed, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. In applying therefore for these joys, you are applying for appointed spiritual strength, without which the smallest temptation will make you tremble, and the very grasshopper will be a burden, if the bearing it be included in a divine command.
Let us well remind you, man is formed for happiness, made capable, in his origin, and not at all now deprived of the ability, as to his natural powers, of enjoying it to an inconceivable degree. By a necessity of his nature then, he is impelled on to the gratification of his affections; nothing but the consolations of the gospel can purify his taste. The most melancholly are usually the most sensual. If you have not joy in God, you will inevitably seek it elsewhere. Let us not look like people perplexed with too intricate a case, when we see some professors of christianity join us with those that are even without any pretensions to it; eager like them in the pursuit of carnal gratifications! desperately struggling after riches; panting after worldly honours; or even wallowing in the style of sensuality. There is nothing mysterous or surprising here; however fair their profession may have appeared, they were without the joys of the gospel. Had they been in possession of these, they would not merely have been indifferent to the low gratifications they have pursued, but they would have felt an absolute disgust to them.
Again, should you, Brethren, live strangers to these joys, and consequently under the influence of fear only, as a ruling principle; and if at the same time the providence of God so combine as to prevent your falling visibly into what we usually denominate immorality, you may be considered the genuine disciples of Jesus by those
who are like you. You may be members of churches, and preserve your place in them, with decency, but after all have no more of his spirit and temper than those who know him not. Your mode of thinking, your dispositions, your manners, will be imbued with the recrimonious [?] severities of the system to which you submit. Whatever some professors may pretend, their being destitute of the generous joys of religion is the true source of that censorious spirit whch condemns without mercy; and would burn up all difference and opposition with the fire of divine vengeance. Wherever the grave of bigotry may most happily be found, the slavish and unjoyous disposition, generated by a life of fear, is the womb in which it is conceived. Here also may be traced the reason that even professors of the religion of Christ, members of churches, have been in some instances so easily irritated one with another; have suffered their passions to be inflamed; and in their contentions, so the utter disgrace of their religion, and to the astonishment of many, have run out to such an excess of bittterness and unreasonableness as can be very seldom found even in the differences of those who pretend to no acquaintance at all with experimental godliness.
Pleasure sweetly soothes the irritableness of the human mind, and the joys of the gospel are so suitable to the soul and its condition; they have such a weight of glory in them, that he who feels these, finds himself in possession of that which necessarily renders him superior to the prejudices of slaves, and indifferent to the objects for which inferior minds contend.
Beloved Brethren, we see the glory of your heavenly Father, the honour of your Divine Mediator, your and our successful recommendation of his gospel, your overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil; your growing in grace, your spiritual devotedness to God, your affectionate zeal for his cause in the world, your love to the happiness of men, your credit and propensity as churches, your enduring to the end - intimately depend on your decisive enjoyment of the religion you profess. As men employed, therefore under the most eventful engagements, as ambassadors sent again from Christ to you, we beseech, we intreat you, as in the Mediator's stead, be ye wholly reconciled to God. Embrace determinedly the glad tidings of great joy, and implicitly rely on their faithfulness.
But our address is useless, if one crcumstance be wanting among you. With what anxiety do we enquire again, are you willing to be happy in a reconciled God? Alas, we have laboured in vain, if our solicitude have not excited this gracious disposition in you. Our beloved Master hath made it an easy duty, to point out to you the steps you shall take for the enjoyment of the consolation of the gospel,
if they be the positive desire of you[r] hearts; but it is instructing the dead, if this is not the case. Oh! professed followers of the Son of God, who died that you might live, is this possible? Is it possible that any of you, resisting the purpose of our present address to you, can be employed in endeavouring to justify your indifference to the appropriations of Divine Love, and to persuade yourselves that pleasures in religion beyond what you have are enthusiasm? Then know your condition. This world has an alarming ascendancy in your minds. Its pernicious influence rules in your affections. It induces you to look at the things which are seen more than at the things which are not seen, and your judgment on each is in consequence delusive. you will be convinced of your error in sorrow, nor should you wonder at the completeness of the deception you are under. Of all the evils to which a believer is exposed, the influence of the present world is most deceptive, and at the same time most adverse to, and destructive of a life of faith in the joys of salvation. It is unhappily possible for a religious professor to be enslaved by some sensual gratification; yet he will have hours of reflexion, and self-condemnation; a groan will now and then rise from the very bottom of his heart, and through the restlessness of his soul, in his criminal condition, the language of desperation will rush from his lips; confessing the horrors of his present course, and the infinite superiority of the joys of salvation to all the pleasures the world can give. But the spirit of this world carnalizes the dispositions of the mind in the most effectual, because it insinuates itself in the most delusive manner, through all the facilities of the soul. It plausibly pretends to a strict regard to duty, to prudence and necessity. It wears so much of an appearance of decency, and even of respectability; when it is successful in life, it commands such imposing influence in churches and among God's people. It can put on, in such a regular manner, the form of religion, it so effectually eludes the legal cognizance of religious societies, and is so little amenable at their bar, that it deceives almost every one, but no one so much as him, who is the unhappy slave of it. While in him it is converting what was godly zeal, into arrogance and self will, benevolence into ostentation, a desire to do good, into a love of popularity, and a ravenous appetite for the praise of men. A sunshine sabbath and a large congregation, into a good day in the house of God. Impressions made upon the natural passions by the iddities of the minister, tho' impertinent, and his excess of invention, tho' presumptious, into instances of spiritual profit and portions of divine comfort. - In short, personal religion into the mere form of godliness, withoout the power, and qccomodations of this world, into evidences of the Divine savous. Such is the spirit of the world. In this awful manner does it deprive the soul of the real life of religion, and a relish for spiritual gratification in the positive communion with God.
Why is there no more among us, Brethren, a soul like David's,
panting after God? Is it not incontestable that while there is in our land an extensive religious profession, there appears but little, comparatively, of an experimental knowledge of the subject we are now enforcing?
Some christians make a point of living sensibly under the light of the divine countenance. Can it be because we habitually enjoy this light, that we hear no more complains of the want of it? With many professors the language of a soul crying - Restore unto me the joys of thy salvation, seems a foreign dialect. True, when we are in distress we pray for mercy, and who does not, possessing only his rational faculties? When we come into the immediate view of the eternal world, nothing satisfies us but the consolations of the gospel; but while in apparent health, is life more certain? Why should we then wish to be at ease without the Divine spirit witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God?
There are indeed, professors of religion, who are so far from a personal enjoyment of the spiritual privileges the God of grace has provided and proposes in the gospel, that they really seem to have no juster conceptions of them than what they form from a stupid state of their conscience. When they have commited actual sin, they feel guilt, they take a superficial view of the death of Christ, and degrees, chiefly through the decrease of their remembrance of their sin, they attain ease. If they go on then, without immorality, does it not seem as if all was well? Ah! there should be great searchings of heart among such professors. God will lead a third part through the water, and through the fire, and we tremble lest he should leave a part even of these, to perish in such trials.
Beloved Brethren, make the experience of gospel joy your decided object. Would to God we could persuade you to be satisfied with nothing less, even of the glorious religion of the blessed Redeemer, than your being brought by it into the real profession of that freedom with which he has promised to make his peole free. Why not humbly, but strenuously, put in your claim, individually to it, as well as others, who have gone before you, and others who are around you, all of whom have been successful, not by works of righteousness which they have done, but through that righteousness which God delights to hear pleaded before his throne? Your coldness, weakness, formality of spirit, your liability to fear, to doubt, to error, to trouble, to temptation of every form, make it absolutely necessary that you should certainly and daily enjoy the religion you profess. Does not the blessed God fairly propose to be a Father to you, and you to be his sons and daughters? and do you propose nothing to yourselves in consequence of this, but a superrficial acquaintance with God's dear son, your mediating friend? A little ease of conscience, a glimmering of hope, and a mere life of
restraint? This is far, very far short of what God has promised to his children, and of what they should expect from such a Father. Has he not promised a vital, decisive convention of heart. The knowledge of divine pardon - the enjoyment of peace and reconciliation - sensible liberty of access and acceptance with him - Not the name of children only, but the very spirit of adoption - communion of soul with the Father and the Son? Is there not a joy that is unspeakable and full of glory? Let us then make it our distinct and determined object; let us in reality be ever looking out for it, and without it let us never be satisfied. For all these things saith the Lord, will I be enquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them. The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
When the consolations of the gospel have been recommended to some professors, it has been their custom to complain of their want of faith. Are such sure they know their real state of mind? The want of faith is a state of unbelief, and what of the gospel is it which they disbelieve? Is it the freeness of Divine Grace? Is it the sufficiency of the sinner's Divine Friend? Is it the declaration, that there is salvation in no other? Neither. These are gracious truths for which they contend. They uphold them so strenuouslly as to receive by it a distinct denomination from the religious world; and yet perhaps know little, comparatively, of the soul-satisfying delight these truths are capable of communicating. This is a case not so much in want of the faith the subjects of it mean, as of fervent, of real desire. Let none complain particularly of the want of faith, it is foolish, and unjust, and delusive; while they indulge more desire for terrestrial subjects than they cultivate for the joys of the gospel. If we are in want of faith, it is chiefly a faith in those divine declarations which would make us most feelingly and tremblingly alive to the baseness of our character as sinners, in the fight of an infinitely holy moral Governor - to the desperate and awful depravity of our nature through sin - to the inflexible and most righteous curse of the just and spiritual laws of our Eternal Judge - to the vile ingratitude and dreadful presumption of our transgressions against that mighty Being in whom are all our springs. If we had a faith which made us alive to such truths, then indeed our eyes would glisten, our very hearts would leap, in the view of gospel joys; our very souls would go forth in ardent desire, and by the faith we already have in the glad tidings of salvation, we should lay hold of eternal life. Nor could we cease longing, till our Heavenly Father, all faithful and gracious as he is, gave each of us to say, Jesus is mine and I am his.
With these powers of religion on our minds, and the joys of it in our hearts, we should run the the ways of God with vigour and pleasure.
All the means, all the holy exercises, instituted by Jesus Christ, would be affectionately regarded. We should embrace them as privileges, and not treat them as irksome duties. It would be impossible we could feel any thing like a relief from a burden, merely from the circumstances of their being done. We should find them avenues to God, and means of communion with the Most High. Our hearts would be established in grace from time to time, and every principle of religion we have, would be confirmed. A hatred to sin, in all its forms and degrees, would be increased to loathing - watchfulness against it, and opposition to it, and the influence of every idol, would be easier and more determined. The Father of all grace would be glorified in us and by us - Jesus Christ would be honoured, and his gospel successfully recommended. Every virtue belonging to the christian character would shine forth from us before men. Our path would be like the rising light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day; and our end, before we came to it, would present an increasing prospect of peace. Jerusalem would be hastening to the state in which she shall be the joy of the whole earth - Our souls would improve in those feelings, those appropriate feelings of the believer, spiritual longing for the heavenly world; and as he is faithful who has promised, the top-stone of the whole shall be brought forth with shouting, crying, grace, grace unto it, and Happy happy we shall stand in the immediate vision of God, where there is fulness of joy, and at his right hand, where there are pleasures for evermore.
Signed on behalf of the Association,
and by their direction, ISA. BRIT, Moderator.
YEOVIL, Tuesday Evening, May 23. Brother Viney preached from Matt, xxviii. 20. Lo I am with you always even unto the end of the world.
Wednesday Morning. XI. Attended to the business of the Widow's fund; and a considerable sum having been subscribed, it was resolved that Ministers be' allowed till the first of September next to commence their payments.
Afternoon, III. Brother Ward prayed, Brother Birt was chosen Moderator, the Preliminaries and Letters from the Churches were read and Brother Sprague of Bovey concluded in prayer.
Evening, VII. At the Independent Meeting. Brother Page prayed, Brother Giles preached from Titus ii. 11, 12, 13. Far the grace of God that bringeth Salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, and Brother Saunders closed with prayer.
Thursday Morn. VI. Brethren Tyso, Humphrey, Mursell, and Smith of Tiverton, prayed. Agreed to admit the Churches at Lymington and Wellow into the Association. After which the Money for the Fund was received, amounting to L163: 14s: 4 1/4d, and £16 : 3s for Letters and the former sum was distributed in the usual manner.
X 1/2. Brother Miall prayed, Brother Birt preached from Rom. iii, 31. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea we establish the law. Brother Cherry read the circular letter, which was ordered to be printed; and Brother Hatchings closed with prayer.
Afternoon, III. Brother Ryland prayed, Brother Porter preached from, Acts ii, 23. Him being delivered by the determinate counsel of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain, and Brother Dawson prayed. Agreed to hold the next Association at Plymouth, on the Wednesday and Thursday in Whitsun-Week, 1810. Enquire for Mr. Winsor's, King's' Arms. The Members of the, Widow's Fund Society to meet on Wednesday at 11 o'Clock.' Brethren Ryland and Saffery to preach; in case of failure, Brethren Miall and Page. Brother Sauitders was requested to draw up the circular Letter. The Moderator concluded with prayer.
Evening VI 1/2. Brother Sitffery prayed,- Brother Roberts preached from Heb. xiii, 17. They watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief, for that is unprofitable for you. Brother Tracey (Minister of the Place in which we were kindly permitted to assemble) closed with prayer.
Handwritten at the bottom of the document:
Baptized - 331. . Clear Increase - 232 ========
[From the Western Association Minutes. The document is a copy from the original at Regents Park Baptist College, Angus Library, Oxford, England. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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