Circular Letter of Bradford Association, England
by Bro. Langdon, 1810
The Ministers of the Baptist Denomination met in Association
At Bradford June, 12th. and 13th. 1810,
Send christian salutation to the several Churches
over which they preside, meeting at
Ackrington Gildersome, Pendle Hill Bacup Halifax, Preston Barnoldswick Hebden-Bridge Rawden Blackburn Leeds Rochdale Bradford Liverpool, Byrom-street Rushworth Burslem Manchester, New York Street Salendine Nook Bramley Masbro' Sutton, in Craven Clough Fold Ogden Wainsgate, and Cowling Hill York
"Doctrine of Election"
The subjects on which we have been accustomed to address you, in our annual epistles, have generally been of a practical nature. And we hope your ministers will never so far forget the nature and design of their profession, as to endeavour to amuse you with metaphysical
speculations, instead of leading your attention to those subjects which have a direct tendency to promote your improvement in genuine piety, and universal goodness. We are now, indeed, at the earnest request of some of our brethren, about to address you on a subject which may, on some accounts, be regarded as metaphysical. We mean what is generally termed the doctrine of election. We do not, however, deem it necessary to enter upon a laboured defence of it. We shall only make a few remarks, with a view to point out some mistakes are generally entertained respecting the consequences which result from this doctrine; to guard against its abuse; and to shew what practical improvement we ought to make of it.
We are aware that the doctrine of election is, at present, extremely unpopular. But we believe this is principally the consequence of its being but little understood, and consequently, very much misrepresented by those who oppose it; and perhaps, very grossly by those who profess to believe it.
That good men are represented by the inspired writers, as the elect, or chosen people of God, is what none who have the slightest acquaintance with the holy Scriptures can deny. The Apostle Paul tells the believing Thessalonian that God had "From the beginning chosen them to salvation". 2 Thes. ii. 13. He speaks of the Ephesian Christians as having been "chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world". Eph. i. 4. And when writing to the Romans respecting God's rejection of the Jews, In consequence of their infidelity and wickedness he tells them that this rejection would not be total, he
expresses himself in these remarkable words; "There is a remnant according to the election of grace." Rom. xi.5. To mention but one passage more; the Apostle Peter stiles [stills] the Christians to whom he wrote, "Elect, according to the foreknowledge of God the father, through sanctification of the spirit unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" I Pet. i. 2. On candidly examining these passages and many others of the same import, which might easily be recited, we feel ourselves obliged to acknowledge that they speak of an election which is personal; that the objects of it were chosen of God from eternity; that they were not chosen merely to the enjoyment of certain external privileges, but to salvation; and that this choice was not the result of any merit or goodness seen in them, but entirely the consequence of the divine grace.
We do not however, believe that in choosing his people to salvation, the great God has acted in a capricious or arbitrary manner. He is indeed, a sovereign; but he is a wise and righteous sovereign. The reasons of his conduct may be, and frequently are unknown to us: but we cannot doubt of his being determined by the wisest reasons; in the formation and execution of all his designs. We are assured indeed, that God’s choice of his people is an "election of grace;" and that no foreseen worthiness in them was the cause of it. They were chosen not because they were holy; or because it was foreseen that they would be holy; but "that they should be holy." They were chosen "according to the good pleasure of the divine will:" but that will is always determined by principles of infinite wisdom and goodness.
The belief of this doctrine has no influence on the opinion we form respecting the number of those who shall be finally saved. Those who believe the doctrine of election are frequently represented as persons who confine the divine favour within the narrow limits of their own party; and suppose the kingdom of heaven to be a solitary, and almost uninhabited country, into which no one can obtain admission but those whose creed is similar to their own. But is this representation just? We hope not, brethren. We believe that the elect of God will be gathered "from the four winds; from one end of heaven to the other". We rejoice in the prospect of seeing "many; a multitude which no man can number, come from the east and the west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of God". But whatever may he the opinion of individuals on this subject, those who believe this doctrine stand on the same ground with those who deny it; and must form their opinion on the same principles. Both profess to believe that good persons will be happy, and the wicked miserable in a future state. That in every nation all who fear God, and work righteousness will be finally accepted; and, on the other hand, that the unrighteous cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
And, as this doctrine does not affect the opinion we entertain concerning the number of those who shall be finally saved, so it has no connexion with the cause of the condemnation and future misery of the wicked. To suppose that any will be punished because they are not elected: to imagine that a just and merciful Being has made any of his creatures on purpose that they should sin, in order that his justice might be displayed in their condemnation and punishment:
to suppose that any of our race are, without any regard to their characters and deserts, by an irreversible decree of reprobation consigned over to inevitable perdition, would, be to contradict all that reason and scripture teach us respecting the perfections and government of the Almighty. We shudder at the bare recital of such horrid notions; and solemnly disavow their being the necessary consequences of the doctrine we are treating of. The great God is an infinitely holy and good Being. He cannot be the author of sin, or delight in the misery of his creatures, His tender mercies are over all his works: and he has most solemnly assured us that: he has "no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but had rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live". To say that the wickedness, or the misery of mankind is the necessary consequence of any decree, or of any influence of the divine Being, appears to us little less than blasphemy. No, brethren; the Judge of the whole earth will do nothing but what is right. He will not call men to an account for the abuse of privileges which they have not enjoyed; nor punish them for crimes which they have not committed; and which they might not have avoided committing. If men are determined to persist in a course of impiety and wickedness, in vain will they seek the cause of their perdition in the decrees of God. Their destruction will be entirely of themselves.
We acknowledge indeed, that a Being whose understanding is infinite and who consequently comprehends all things in his foreknowledge, must from eternity have foreseen the destiny of all his creatures. And whatever difficulties may be supposed to attend the doctrine of election, and we readily acknowledge that it is attended
with many difficulties, they will not be removed by rejecting this doctrine, unless we also deny the absolute foreknowledge the omnipotent power, and the universal providence of God. That the decrees of God are not inconsistent with the, moral agency of man; that they do not destroy the virtue or criminality of his actions; that they are perfectly compatible with that liberty which is essential to our being accountable creatures, and proper subjects of rewards and punishments, we firmly believe. But should any enquire "How can these things be?" We readily acknowledge that it would be difficult, if not impossible to give a satisfactory answer to this question. And if we consider how little we know of the combination and arrangement of the divine purposes, we shall not wonder that this is the case. The Scriptures plainly teach us that God "worketh all things after the counsel of his own will". And they as clearly teach us that man is a moral agent; that he is placed between rewards and punishments; that the blessings and the curse, life and death, are set before him and that if he makes the foolish choice, the fault is entirely his own. We are then bound to believe the facts, though we may find it difficult to shew their consistency. And indeed, this is far from being the only difficulty the solution of which we must leave till we enter into that happy world, where we are encouraged to hope that what we know not now, will. be discovered to us.
Nor is this doctrine inconsistent with the general commands and invitations of the gospel; or calculated to throw the least discouragement, in the way of the humble, penitent sinner. In the gospel, God commands all men every where
to repent; and assures us that the penitent shall obtain forgiveness. There, Jesus Christ is exhibited before us, as an almighty and compassionate Saviour; as able and willing to save to the very uttermost to save all that come to God by him. There the Saviour himself tells us that he is ready freely to bestow the blessings of salvation on all who apply to him for them: and that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. His gracious language is, "Let him that is athirst, come; and whosoever will, let him take of the waters of life freely". Now, does the doctrine of election contradict these gracious declarations? or make the promises of none effect? Does it supercede the proposals of divine mercy, or limit the kind invitations of the gospel? No; it leaves them all in their full force, and their most extensive signification. Nor can there be a more striking proof of this, than that Jesus Christ, when he infers the certain success of his ministry from the gracious decree of his heavenly father, and says "all that the Father hath given me, shall come unto me", immediately adds, "and him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out".
Again. The doctrine of election does not supercede the necessity of personal holiness. We know that it is frequently represented as a licentious doctrine; a doctrine calculated to lead men to encourage a fatal security, while they live in the practise [sic] of sin. We will not say that it has never been abused to licentious purposes; and, alas! what doctrine of religion has not been abused? But we deny that the doctrine itself has any licentious tendency or that it affords the least encouragement to ungodly and vicious men. Are not christians chosen
"through sanctification of the spirit, and belief of the truth?" and can any be so absurd as to infer from this, that faith and sanctification are unnecessary? Must not that person be very weak, as well as extremely depraved who can conclude that because God's people are chosen to holiness, he may securely persist in a course of wickedness? That, because they are chosen "through sanctification of the spirit unto obedience, and the sprinkling of the blood of Christ," he may enjoy the blessings of salvation, though he lives in a course of habitual disobedience to the laws of his Creator, and tramples under foot the Son of God? None but pious and holy persons; none but the humble, penitent, believing, obedient disciples of Jesus Christ, can have and evidence of their being interested in the peculiar privileges of God's chosen. Nothing is more plainly inculcated in the sacred Scriptures, than that personal holiness it indispensably necessary to qualify us for the exercises and enjoyments of God's future: kingdom. And this sentiment is confirmed by the very circumstance of Christians being chosen to salvation through sanctification. Chosen to be holy in this world, in order to their being happy in the next.
Permit us to add; that this doctrine does not render those means of salvation unnecessary which God has appointed, or supercede the obligation we are under diligently to use them. In the divine purposes, the means and the end, are inseparably connected. Nor can there be any thing more absurd than for a person to hope for the accomplishment of any end, without rising the means which are necessary, in order to obtain it? We do not believe that the elect will
be saved whether they seek an interest in the blessings of salvation, or not; for that any may diligently seek them, and be disappointed. We believe that all who by a patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory, honour, and immortality, will obtain eternal life. And, on the other hand, that those who pay no attention to their future interest, can hope for no part or lo[t] in the celestial happiness. And that it is the indispensable duty of all men, in the constant use of all the means which God hath appointed, to strive to enter in at the strait gate; and to give all diligence to make their calling and election sure.
Having thus made some general remarks, with a view to remove the groundless objections brought against this doctrine by those who reject it; to guard you against abusing it; and to shew that all out sentiments respecting it should be regulated by the views which the scriptures give us of the perfections of God, the moral agency of man, the invitations of the gospel, and the indispensible necessity of holiness, in order to our future felicity, we shall now inquire what are the practical lessons which it is calculated to teach us.
1. From the view we have taken of the doctrine, we may learn, that it should be the great concern of our lives, to obtain those holy dispositions and principles which are the marks and evidences of our "election of God". God's people, we have seen, are chosen "through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience, and the sprinkling [of] the blood of Jesus Christ." Have we, under a penitent sense of our guilt, had recourse to the divine mercy for pardon, through
the Redeemer's precious blood? Have our natures been sanctified by the holy Spirit? And, as an evidence of this, are we living in an habitual course of uniform and cheerful obedience to the laws of God? We cannot unseal the volume of the divine decrees, to discover whether our names are written in the book of life. But we can examine our own principles and conduct; and thus determine whether we are the characters for whom the scriptures tell us the kingdom of heaven was prepared "from the foundation of the world". Let us then endeavour to make our calling and election sure, as the apostle Peter teaches us, by giving all diligence to add to our faith virtue; to virtue knowledge, to knowledge temperance; to temperance patience; to patience godliness; to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness universal charity.
2. The doctrine of which we have been treating, teaches us a lesson of humility. It shows us that it is by the grace of God that we are what we are. Its language is "Who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou which thou didst not receive? Now, if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?" It excludes boasting; and hides pride from man. It tells us that he who "glorieth must glory in the Lord."
3. This doctrine is calculated to inspire good men with the most fervent gratitude. Have we reason to hope that we are "vessels of mercy," in whom God has graciously determined to make known "the riches of his glory?" Are we indebted to the free, unmerited mercy of God,
for all the privileges we now enjoy, and all our hopes of everlasting happiness in a future state? What ardent gratitude: should the recollection of this excite? In every pan of the stupendous scheme of our redemption, the riches of the divine grace and mercy, are wonderfully displayed. Grace laid the foundation of this glorious edifice, in the eternal counsels of the divine mind, Grace raised the superstructure, in the person, and by the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. And when the top stone is brought forth, in the celestial world, it will be with shoutings, Grace! Grace! unto it. And can we contemplate such rich, such unmeasurable grace, and indulge a cheerful hope of an interest in it, without being penetrated with the most lively sense of our obligations? and calling upon our souls and all that is within us to celebrate the divine goodness? No, brethren; if our minds are properly affected with subject, we shall cordially unite with the Apostle in blessing "God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ," who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings, in heavenly "places in Christ according as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world." And we shall endeavour to express our gratitude, not only with our lips, but by the piety and holiness of our lives.
4. This doctrine may inspire the christian with confidence and hope, amidst all the temptations and dangers of the present life. It gives no encouragement indeed, to indolence and carnal security. No; we have already seen that it supposes, the necessity of a diligent use of all the means which God has appointed; and the vigorous exertion, of all the powers which he has
given us. But it assures us, that, when we are "steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, our labours shall not be in vain." With what heroic confidence did a consideration of this doctrine, in connexion with the immutability of the love of God, and the atoning sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, inspire the holy Apostle Paul? See the viii th. chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, and the 28th and following verses. "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God; to them that are called according to his purposes. For whom he did foreknow, them he did predestinate; and whom he did predestinate them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified, them he also glorified; Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It God that justifieth: Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died yea, rather that is risen again; who is even at the right hand of God who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from, the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay; in all, these things we are more than conquerors, through him that loved. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, for powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
To conclude. Let the darkness and obscurity which attend this doctrine teach us modesty and candor. If the doctrine be revealed in the word of God, let not the difficulties with which it
is attended prevent our believing it. But let us not imagine that we are capable of comprehending all the mysteries in which it is involved. Who can sound the depth, or comprehend the vast extent of the divine purposes? Let us not indulge the wish to be wise above "what is written". Let us be satisfied with the information which God has given us on this subject; and not attempt to draw aside the veil which hides from us what he sees fit at present to conceal. Let us wait, with patience and hope, for that happy period, when the clouds and darkness which are now round about so many of the divine purposes and dispensatians shall be entirely dissipated. And, in the meantime, when we contemplate the infinite perfections, and all comprehending decrees of the Almighty, let us feel our insignificance and vanity. Let us, standing, as it were, on the brink of a vast abyss, with deep humility and profound veneration, cry out, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out!"
And, if there be a subject respecting which christians are bound to exercise mutual candor and toleration, surely this is one. Let us not condemn, or think unfavourably of our fellow christians, because they differ from us in their opinions respecting a subject which is professedly involved in much obscurity. There is reason to believe that many oppose this doctrine from an unfounded apprehension that the consequences which result from it, are dishonorable to the divine character. When this appears to be the case, let us respect and honour the principle, while we lament that it should lead to the rejection
of a doctrine which we believe to be plainly inculcated in the holy scriptures. And, whatever our sentiments respecting this doctrine may be, if we are christians, let us love as brethren. Let us remember that the subjects respecting which all true christians agree, are infinitely more important than those on which they differ. Let us not misrepresent each other's peculiar opinions; nor ungenerously charge one another with consequences which are mutually and solemny disavowed. Let us put away "all bitterness, and wrath and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking" and endeavour to keep "the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace."
"And, O my soul, if truth so bright
Should dazzle and confound thy sight
, Yet still his written will obey,
And wait the great decisive day.
Then will he make his justice known,
And the whole world before his throne,
With joy, or terror, shall confess
The glory of his righteousness."
[Following are Minutes of the 1810 meeting. - jrd]
Tuesday June 12th, 1810.
Met at 2 o’Clock in the afternoon, when Brother Steadman gave out the 514th Hymn of Dr. Rip[p]on's Selection, and prayed. Brother Steadman was chosen moderator. The letters from the several Churches, and the Circular Letter drawn up by Brother Langdon were read: and the service was concluded with prayer by Brother Langdon.
Met again at 7 o'Clock. Brother Hyde prayed, and afterwards preached from Ps. lxxxix:  19. Then thou spakest in vision to thy Holy One and saidst, I have laid help, &c, and concluded with prayer.
On Wednesday morning at half past six, met for prayer, in which exercise our brethren Mann, Downes, &c. engaged.
After which it was resolved,
That the Circular Letter be printed.
That the next Association be at New York street, Manchester on Wednesday and Thursday, in the Whitsun Week; our Brethren, Fawcett, Langdon, and Steadman are requested to preach; and in case of failure our Brethren Littlewood and Hyde. Put up at the Commercial Inn, in High-street.
That the next year's letter be on the profitable hearing of the word; and that Brother Steadman, be requested to draw it up.
That the Association approves of the attempt set on foot last year for the support of itinerant preaching, and that a committee be immediately formed for conducting that business.
In the evening met again at six. Brother Scarlett prayed. Brother Thompson of Burslem preached from 1 Thessalonians ii. 20. "For ye are our glory and joy." And Brother Shepherd concluded in prayer.
STATE OF THE CHURCHES.
Added by Baptism 137 Letters 3 } 148 Restored 8 Lost by Death 26 Dismission 5 } 42 Exclusion 11 Increase 106
The number of Members in all the Churches, as nearly as can be computed, is 1700.
The Baptist Magazine,Is published on the First of every Month, price 6d. by Burden and Button, London.
G. Wilson, Printer, Leeds,
[This document is taken from a photocopy of the original from Regents Park College, Angus Library, Oxford, England, pages 1-16. - Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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