Shaftsbury Baptist Association
CIRCULAR LETTER, 1809
"Knowing the Truth"
By Elder Isaac Webb
The Ministers and Messengers of the SHAFTSBURY ASSOCIATION, to the churches which they represent; send Christian salutation;
DEAR BRETHREN, In our last circular, we addressed you on the important subject of prayer; a subject of importance indeed; yet not more so than some others, which demand the attention of the Christian: For as prayer implies a right disposition of heart, and connected with this is an enlightened understanding, a suitable knowledge of the truth must ever stand prior to the right performance of the duty of prayer. Hence an acquaintance with the truth must be of the first necessity to every intelligent being, who would worship God in an acceptable manner. God is truth; and to have an acquaintance with truth is to have an acquaintance with God. But his word is truth also; for therein is described not only the character of God but the character of man; and these form the two great pillars, on which rests the whole fabric of the Gospel. To these, permit us (in brotherly love) to cite your minds for a few moments. And, "First -- The character of God. He is a being infinite in all his attributes. Justice, Goodness and Truth, constitute his moral prefections. Consequently, he must be immutable in his purposes, and faithful in his promises. He cannot err in counsel, nor change in his designs: And as the works of all intelligent beings originated in and flow from their thoughts, his thoughts being eternal and unchangeable, his works must unavoidably result from an eternal and unchangeable plan. For to suppose that the mind of God could change, or even hesitate for a moment, would be a renunciation of every idea of the
infinitude of Deity, and would amount to a denial of the very existence and being of a God. It will hence follow, that "he is in one mind; and who can turn him? And what his soul desireth, even that he doth:" Job 23:13: And that "the counsel of the Lord standeth for ever; the thoughts of his heart to all generations." Psalm 33:11. This is the character ascribed in the gospel to the God of the whole earth; and in this point of light is he to be "exhibited in the gospel to the children of men, as a being worthy of supreme adoration. And the language of truth is -- "Acquaint now thyself with him and be at peace; thereby good shall come unto thee." Job 22:21. But,
Secondly, -- In order to be acquainted with him, we must become acquainted with ourselves. "Know thyself," was the golden maxim of a heathen Sage; and this sentiment agrees with the gospel, and is beautifully amplified by the poet:
'Man know thyself; try thy own heart to scan;
The proper knowledge of mankind is man.'
But here man may adopt the language of the Ethiopian: Acts 8, 'How can I understand except some man guide me?' -- How shall guilty darkened man know himself, if his time character is kept out of view by Preachers of the Gospel? "If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battle?" Will men feel their need of a Saviour, until they see and feel their helpless and hopeless condition? And will they see and feel these, until their character is held up to them, in a preached gospel, in its true colors? They must be informed of their vileness and total depravity; that the whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint; that they are entirely and eternally undone; that they are without hope, and without God in the world; and that "the thoughts of their hearts are only evil continally." Genesis 6:5.
Thus the sinner's depravity is to be fully and faithfully exposed: his crimes charged home to his conscience with sympathising fervency, and his true picture exhibited to view. And not only this, his picture must be drawn at full length: He must see himself, from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet, in a moral point of light. He must know that he is an irreconcilable enemy to God in heart, opposed as much to mercy as to justice, and as great an enemy to the gospel as to the law. This is the way in which men become acquainted with themselves; and in this way are they slain by the law, in order to be made alive unto God. "Is not my words (saith the Lord) like the hammer, and like the fire, that breaketh the rock in pieces?" And that man who has not thus been slain, has never known the value of grace, nor realised his perishing need of a Saviour; nor has he ever obtained right ideas of the divine character. When slain by the law, then, and not until then, does our hope in ourselves and in our obedience, perish; then, and not until then, does God appear as a Sovereign, sitting upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants as grasshoppers before him; the nations being esteemed as a drop of the bucket, or as the small dust of the balance, in his sight. Now, then, the sinner feels himself in the hands of a Sovereign, who can wound and can heal;
can kill and make alive and can save or destroy. Now, then, should sovereign and distinguishing grace pluck him as a brand from the burning. He will be prepared and disposed to set the crown on the Redeemer's head; and to ascribe all the glory to him who has loved him, and washed him from his sins in his own blood; and thus the glories of sovereign, distinguishing and eternal love, shine conspicuous in the face of Jesus Christ, to the unspeakable consolation of the penitent soul. In this way the sinner is humbled, God is exalted, and the soul is saved upon a plan, ancient as eternity and permanent as the everlasting hills.
BRETHREN, the doctrine of the divine perfections involves in It that of sovereign grace; and the doctrine of human depravity stands closely connected therewith in the Bibles. These doctrines stand directly opposed to the pride of the human heart, which rises up with unrelenting fury against them and their supporters, and were it in its power, would exterminate them from the earth. But be not dismayed. Cleave fast unto the doctrines of grace, as unto the sheet-anchor of your souls; in doing which, you will ride out the storms of time, and at last, arrive safe in the peaceful haven of eternity. Hold up the hands of those who preach Christ crucified. But shut your ears against the syren voice of error; and turn away indignantly from that man who obscures the glory of sovereign grace, by the exaltation of human works; who calls upon the poor dead sinner to work out his own salvation, whilst the enmity of his heart, and the infinite evil of sin, are kept out of view; who tries to inflame the passions by the vociferations of ignorance, without informing the judgment, or enlighting, the understanding.
BRETHREN, the fearful effects of Arminian delusion are sufficiently and awfully demonstrated in our day. Against these let us carefully watch, and fervently pray; submitting ourselves to the direction and trusting in the immutable faithfulness of an almighty Saviour; unto whom every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Let us cherish this consoling reflection, that the time is fast approaching, when the errors and abominations of both the deceivers and deceived shall be swept with the besom of destruction, as cobwebs, from the earth; when Christ shall take to himself his great power, and shall reign over the whole earth; when (to use the words of Isaiah) "the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low; and the Lord alone, shall be exalted in that day."
ISAAC WEBB, Moderator.
N. KENDRICK, Clerk.
[Stephen Wright, History of the Shaftsbury Baptist Association, 1853, pp. 97-99. -- jrd]
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