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CIRCULAR LETTER
From the Elders, Ministers, & Messengers
Of the Several Baptist Churches Of the Western Association
Assembled at Shortwood, On May 12, 13 and 14, 1818;

"Doctrine of Election"
by Thomas Wilcox,
Plymouth Dock Baptist Church, Penn-Street.


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 true Saints; 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 letter.

Grace be to you, and Peace, from God the Father, and from Jesus Christ our Lord.

Dear Brethren,

Through the tender mercy of our heavenly Father, we have been permitted to hold another annual interview, and to enjoy a renewal of the sacred pleasure which arises from the communion of Saints.

The tidings from the churches were, on the whole, pleasing; though mixed, as must be expected in the present state, with some things of a painful nature; especially from the attempts made to infect some of our churches with sentiments of an Antinomian tendency, against which we have repeatedly warned you. But we are thankful that they have not been suffered to spread farther, and trust it, will appear that the plague is stayed.*
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* Our Brother Ryland, of Bristol, has published Serious Remarks on the different Representtives of Evangelical Doctrine: in Two Parts. Any minister may have seven copies, paying only for six.
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We unite with you, Brethren, in adoring the kindness of Providence, which, during the past year, has preserved the nations of Europe in peace; whilst we deplore the manifold evils which still result to them, from the awful contest in which they were so long engaged. May the long-looked-for period soon arrive, when peace shall flow to the whole earth as a river, and righteousness as a mighty stream.

You will permit us, as friends, to our beloved country, to advert to the irreparable loss it has recently sustained, in the sudden and unexpected death of Princess Charlotte of Wales. Seldom has the Lord of all appeared to smite the rising hopes of a nation with a more untimely blast, or to call it, by so immediate and affecting a visitation from this throne, to weeping, and lamentation, and woe. He hath, indeed, caused death to come up into our palaces: we have beheld him gathering together in one, all the fairest and most attractive forms of earthly felicity, only that they might pass away in a moment, at the voice of his rebuke. We exhort you, in compliance with the monitions which this afflictive event should continue to inspire, to humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God; to supplicate the extension of his guardian care over all the future interests of Britain; and to cherish, with renewed vigilance, those convictions of the vanity of the world, and of the supreme value of the hopes and consolations of the gospel, which the Divine Spirit has already sealed upon your hearts. "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, and the flower fadeth; but the word of the Lord endureth for ever, and this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you."

We now proceed, conformably to the custom enjoined upon us, to address to you the word of spiritual instruction: may we be enabled so to write, and you to receive what shall be written, as that with one heart and one mouth we may glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Several of our late annual epistles have been principally designed to illustrate the way of holiness, and to excite you to the performance of the varied duties of the Christian life: the candour and affection with which you have received these, our labours of love, afford us pleasing evidence that you are not of those who hold the truth in iniquity, and pervert the right ways of the Lord. On the present occasion, we invite your attention to the doctrine of Election, as commonly held by our churches; and thus approve our desire that, in union with the study and practice of universal righteousness, you
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should contend earnestly for every part of the faith once delivered unto the saints.

We are not insensible, Brethren, to the difficulties which our subject involves: we deprecate that spirit of lawless presumption which affects familiarity with the arcana of heaven, and would pry curiously into the methods of the divine decrees. Who are we, that we should darken counsel by words without knowledge; or gaze without fear where, it is probable, angels veil their faces, and cover them with their wings? It surely behoves us, in all our meditations upon the deep things of God, to cherish in our minds the most profound awe and reverence, lest we should intrude upon his province, or speak of him the thing which is not right.

On the other hand, we would not forget, that to neglect an acquaintance with the purposes of God concerning the final destiny of his intelligent creatures, so far as he has been pleased to reveal them to us in his word, is to incur the guilt of ingratitude, and to close our eyes, against a part of the light which he has condescended to shed for our instruction. Election being a truth manifestly contained in the scripture, we hesitate not to give it our decided support; how greatly soever it may be reviled by its enemies, or perverted by some of its professed friends.

The narrow limits to which we are confined, forbid us to attempt a copious illustration, or defence of this article of our faith; all we design is, to give a rapid sketch of its leading features; to justify it from charges by which it is often assailed; and to show some of the important uses to which it may and ought to be applied.

By election, we understand God's eternal, immutable, sovereign, and unconditional choice, in Jesus Christ, of a certain number of the fallen and miserable race of Adam to grace and glory. The objects of election are a part of mankind: this the very term most obviously implies; for no choice can be made except where some persons or things only are taken, and the rest are passed by, or left. How many, or how few, of the children of men, relatively considered, God may have chosen to himself, we presume not to inquire: his elect have been known, in every age of the world, as a feeble and scattered remnant; but when their aggregate number shall be counted up, on mount Zion above, they will exhibit a vast multitude, in whose complete and distinguished felicity the purposes of his love will be glorified for ever.
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Election imports that its objects were chosen to some peculiar privileges, or favours. They were not chosen, as is sometimes conceived, to particular offices in the church: this is evident, from the consideration that a great majority of those who are termed elect never filled such offices; and, therefore, could not have been fore-appointed to them, unless, (which must not be sup­posed,) the purpose of God was a fruitless intention, and, in most instances, was made of none effect. Nor were they chosen merely to the means of grace, or to a visible profession of Christianity: if they were, it will follow, that the enjoyment of those means, or the making of this profession, by any of the children of men, would afford decisive evidence of their election of God; but we have not so learned Christ and his Apostles. The Saviour testified, concerning those who heard the gospel, even from his own gracious lips. Many are called, but few are chosen. Paul knew the election of the Thessalonians, because the word of truth had come to them, not in word only, but in power, in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance. Peter exhorted the strangers scattered abroad, who had already assumed the Christian profession, to make their election sure. The blessings to which God predestined his chosen, were all spiritual blessings, in heavenly places. See the first chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. In that celebrated chapter, (distinguished as well by the elevation as the importance of its sentiment,) forgiveness, redemption, purity, adoption to the celestial inheritance, the foretaste of glory on earth, and the plenitude of its possession and enjoyment in heaven, are all exhibited as flowing to Christians from the eternal purpose of Jehovah; as bestowed upon them in fulfilment of his sovereign and gracious design. Strictly accordant with this representation, is the language of the same Apostle, in other passages of his writings, in which he congratulates be­lievers on their having been chosen to salvation, and to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thes. v. 9. 2 Thes. ii. 13.

As the elect were chosen to all the blessings of grace and salvation; so they were chosen to these as a certain and definite number, contemplated as persons, or individuals, — and not as nations or communities. They were taken out of every kindred, and tribe, and tongue: their names are said to be written in heaven, and in the Lamb's book of life: they are declared to be elect according to the foreknowledge of God; which fore­knowledge appears to be expressive of distinct and particular, as well as soveieign and gracious regard. No nation or community
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is to be found, to which, considered as such, the blessings connected with election can be said to belong. There is a people whom God has highly distinguished by his favour: he has sent and delivered them from heathen and papal darkness, and has filled them with the light of his word and ordinances; he has not only caused the glory of his truth to arise and shine upon them; but is making them the medium of its diffusion even to the ends of the earth. Can the great body of these, however, be hailed, as possessing the privileges of God's chosen, or as displaying that character which they are infallibly brought to inherit — the result of the divine purpose, and a preparation for a blisful immortality? No: there is occasion, rather, to take up the lamentation of the Prophet, and say, "Except the Lord had left us (for we may be allowed to change the person,) a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and like unto Gomorrha." The churches of the New Testament are addressed, by the Apostles, as elect, not in the character of churches, or collective bodies, among which hypocrites might be found; but of persons whose faith and obedience afforded proof, in a judgment of charity, that they were included in the saving purpose of God.

Mistakes, with regard to the branch of our subject now under discussion, appear to have greatly arisen, from confounding the old with the new covenant, the privileges of the Mosaic with those of the Christian economy. God, having abolished his national covenant with ancient Israel, has not been pleased to renew it with any of the kindreds of the earth: the New Testament knows nothing of collective bodies, denominated the people of God, and the children of God, merely on account of their being admitted into some external relation to him. By the coming of Christ, an important change has taken place, in the constitution of God's kingdom, in the blessings and privileges of his subjects, in the rule of admission to these privileges and blessings, and in the grounds on which they are retained. Israel after the flesh was merely typical of Israel after the spirit: the election of a particular nation, for a limited time, and to external and temporal blessings, was designed to prefigure that more important choice which God had made from eternity, but which he first clearly revealed by his holy apostles; even his selection of a people, out of all nations, to the spiritual worship of his name, and the eternal enjoyment of his heavenly kingdom. The same terms (as elect, chosen, &c.) which were applied to the children of the old, are also applied to those of the new covenant; but, as used to designate the latter, they are to be
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taken, as might be expected, in a nobler and more exalted sense.

God's election of a certain number of the fallen, miserable children of men, to life and happiness, was entirely of sovereign grace, and unconditional. According to the doctrine of scripture, God must have foreseen all mankind sunk in apostasy and transgression, dead in trespasses and sins, obnoxious to his righteous, and everlasting displeasure. If, upon this foresight, he had determined to proceed, in every instance, according to the principles of distributive justice, none could have been ordained to life: tribulation and anguish and wrath must have been decreed to rest upon every soul of man, because of evil and transgression. To prevent this, sovereign mercy intervened, and threw her light across the gloom. Further, Had the Lord of the universe been pleased to show sovereign mercy to all the children of men, in ordaining them to his favour and glory, election could not have been known; and if those whom he thus ordained could be viewed as possessing nothing that entitled them to this distinction, more than others, then are we brought to listen to his voice, proclaiming to us, as it did to his servant Moses, "I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious." To exclude all idea from our minds, that the objects of election might have been chosen on account of some comparative worthiness, or, rather, inferior demerit; many of them are to be found among the very chief of sinners. Here, then, sovereign grace reigns without a rival, and casts contempt upon all the occasions of preference that are regarded by men. "Even so, Father, because it seemed good in thy sight." — "So then, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth; but of God that showeth mercy." Matt. xi. 26. Rom. ix. 16.

Election, being thus from sovereign mercy and undeserved favour, could not be founded on any foresight of faith, holiness, or obedience, in its objects. If it be considered as having the least respect to any excellence in those who are chosen, either natural or acquired, as a reason of its purpose, it immediately ceases to be viewed as an election of grace; otherwise grace is no more grace, or works are no more works. Allow the sen­timent we are opposing to be correct, and the solemn wonder which the Apostle Paul expresses, and the admiring silence into which he sinks, when contemplating the doctrine of the divine decrees, must appear altogether unnecessary and vain. (See Rom. ix.) His answer also to the proud objector would have been ready, and might have been couched in language like this:
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'Why dost thou arraign the conduct of the Almighty, in these his dispensations? Behold, it is in nowise sovereign, or unaccountable: what though he predestined some of the children of men to eternal bliss and happiness, it was because he foresaw they would prove more obedient subjects of his moral govern­ment than others, and deserve, though fallen, to have this dis­tinction conferred upon them, on account of their repentance and faith.' How different this imaginary view of the conduct of Jehovah, from that which the Apostle exhibits! Moreover, Faith, holiness, and obedience, could not be the causes of election; inasmuch as these, together with that divine change of which they are indicative, are represented, in scripture, as its effects. "As many as were ordained to eternal life believed." — "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our wurks, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus, before the world began." — "Whom he did predestinate, them he also called," &c. To represent election as dependent upon any thing that emanates from man, or is performed by him, is to invert that order of things which the New Testament maintains; to obscure the glory of divine grace; and to clothe with uncertainty the highest, noblest purposes of the blessed God.

Election to all the blessings of life and salvation was made in Jesus Christ. God first chose his Son as the head, and then his people as the members; thus constituting one mystical body, to the praise and glory of his grace. Here election and redemption harmonize; sovereign grace and spotless rectitude has each its perfect work; every favour which is and will be conferred upon the elect, in time and through eternity, must necessarily be conferred in a way which is honourable to the divine perfections and government, and which shall tend to enlarge and cherish in their minds every feeling of devout gratitude, reverence, and love.

Election in Jesus Christ to all the blessings of life and salvation is unchangeable and eternal. It is, of necessity, unchangeable, when contemplated as a decree of Jehovah. If he purpose, none can disannul; if he determine, he will surely bring it to pass; his counsel is immutable, and has been con­firmed by an oath. He cannot alter bis designs, from any imperfection of understanding, deficiency of power, Or instability of will. If, therefore, he have predestinated his chosen to eternal glory and felicity, it cannot be supposed that he will suffer his gracious purposes concerning them to be frustrated, or that he will turn away from doing them good. Election is
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represented, in scripture, in certain union with every other blessing. Thus is connected the indissoluble chain — "Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son; and whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified."

Eternal. — "God," says the apostle Paul, in writing to the Thessalonians, "hath chosen you from the beginning: and, in the Epistle to the Ephesians — "According as he hath chosen us in him from before the foundation of the world." The phrases, "from the beginning," and "before the foundation of the world," - as employed by the sacred, writers, evidently express eternity. Eternity and immutability are alike essential to the decrees of God. To suppose that any new thoughts or new purposes can arise in the Divine mind, would be to degrade the character of Him who is wise in heart, as well as perfect in work. What additions can be made to the perceptions of an infinite understanding, or to the decisions of an almighty will? Before Jehovah spake the universe into existence, he formed the mighty and comprehensive plan, according to which he would govern all its affairs, in all ages, and through all worlds.

A persuasion of interest in the blessings of election may be attained; for, although men cannot ascend into heaven, and read their names recorded in the book of life, yet the same evidence by which we judge of the existence of real Christianity, enables us also to ascertain our election of God. If the word of the gospel has come to us, not in word only, but in power, enlight­ening our understandings, healing our consciences, and purifying our hearts, we may know that we have been elected to salvation, through belief of the truth. If we have chosen God as our portion, and experience the shedding abroad of his love in our hearts, by the Holy Spirit, we may, without presumption, conclude that he hath chosen us, and loved us with an everlasting love. If we have come to Christ, that he may be made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, and are conformed unto his adorable example, it is manifest that we were given to him by the Father, and are in him who is the true God and eternal life. Nor would we fail to exhort you, brethren, that ye give all diligence to make your calling and election sure, by adding to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity.
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In proceeding to vindicate, from the aspersions which have been cast upon it, the doctrine which we have now been considering, we remark, that it is in nowise connected with the cause of man's destruction. Election is a source only of good; a fountain of mercy, pity, and grace. The choice of some, it is acknowledged, implies the preterition of others; but this preterition leaves its subjects only where they were previously placed; it has, it can have, no influence whatever, either in occasioning their misery, or in promoting their sin. But, while we have no inclination to deny that God has predestined the wicked to future and eternal wrath, we contend, that his decree concerning them is founded upon a foresight of their wilful and persevering transgression; and, until it can be proved, that it will be unjust for God to condemn and punish them at the last day, it must remain an indisputable truth, that it was right in him to determine, from all eternity, thus to act.

The doctrine of election, though mysterious, is not unreasonable. If we reject it as unreasonable, because it contains some things which surpass our comprehension, we may, on the same ground, and under the same character, refuse our assent to some of the essential articles of our faith. The concealment of the motives by which, in any particular instance, the Divine Being is actuated; does not argue their inconsistency with his own honour, and the rectitude of his moral government. Far be it from us to suppose, that, in the election of which we speak, he was influenced by caprice; on the contrary, all his purposes are denominated the counsel of his will, to teach us that they are invariably directed by infinite wisdom to a great and important end.

Nor is election inconsistent with the general character of God's dispensations; for sovereignty is engraven upon them all. In fixing the bounds of our habitations; in the distribution of the comforts of life; in the bestowment of intellectual capacity; in furnishing opportunities of improvement; as well as in the dispensation of the gospel; we behold him imparting or depriving, conferring or withholding, even as it seemeth good in his sight.

The testimony of fact serves also to corroberate the doctrine. If we survey mankind as they are presented to our notice, we discover an evident difference in their characters. Some we behold living without God, without Christ, without hope: others, devoted to the service of their Maker, confiding in the only Re­deemer, and enlightened with the prospect of a blissful immortality. Whence arises this marked distinction? Are men the agents of their own regeneration and conversion? Can they, of themselves, illumine their understandings, renew their wills, superinduce
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on their hearts and lives the image of a holy God? The supposition would be unwarranted both by reason and scripture. If, tberefore, God be the author of this moral and spiritual renovation, we may conclude, on the surest premises, that he determined to effect it from all eternity; and this is unconditional election.

The doctrine is not inconsistent with the wisdom and goodness of God. The scriptures declare that "the Lord is good to all, and his mercies are over all his works:" and the truth which we defend is not contradictory to these gracious assertions. It must be admitted, that election confers inestimable benefits on the guilty and miserable, who are its objects; and that it is, consequently, to them a display of divine benignity and love: and, therefore, it can be only when viewed in reference to the finally lost and miserable, that it can be associated with any detraction from the mercy of our Heavenly Father. But from these it withholds no blessings to which they can be considered as entitled; nor does it contribute to the cup of wrath, which they drink as the due reward of their deeds: so that we cannot but admire the unmerited goodness of God, which secures the salvation of some of the human race, while the equity of his universal government remains unimpeachable.

Election presents nothing that is irreconcileable with the calls and invitations of the gospel; but, on the contrary, insures their success. Are the purposes of God at variance with his promises? God forbid. There is an established and revealed connexion be­tween repentance and forgiveness, between faith and eternal life, which Jehovah will inviolably preserve, and which every humble penitent shall realize. We W6uld here direct your attention to that remarkable declaration of our Lord — "All that the Father hath given me shall come to me; and him that cometh unto me I will in nowise cast out" — as exhibiting, in harmonious combination, truths which many conceive can never be justly associated.

Finally, The doctrine is not inconsistent with the pursuit of ho­liness, or the diligent use of all the means of grace. If men believe that God has ordained them to eternal felicity, without designing to bring them to present holiness, as the only preparative for its enjoyment, they do greatly err, not knowing the scriptures. If, on the contrary, they believe that God has chosen them to holiness, they will desire, and labour after, its attainment, that they may rejoice with the gladness of his people, and glory with his in­heritance. In all the divine purposes, the use of the prescribed means is inseparably connected with the enjoyment of the end; and the children of men, in the ordinary occurrences of life, act in conformity to their belief of the truth of this connexion. All
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who admit the doctrine of divine providence, must also admit that the limits of their earthly existence are irrevocably fixed, by the supreme Arbiter of life and death. Do they, therefore, neglect the means of supplying their wants, or of preserving their health? Would not the absurdity of such conduct be evident? Equally absurd is the conduct of that man who, professing his belief in his predestination to eternal life, is indifferent to the way of holiness, which alone can conduct him to its possession and enjoyment.

We conclude, brethren, by stating the important uses to which the doctrine of election is subservient.

It should suggest to impenitent sinners, that they lie at the so­vereign and righteous disposal of the great God, with whom are the issues of their eternal destiny, and who has power over them, to wound or to heal, to kill or to make alive, to save or to destroy. And in vain do they declaim against the irreversible decrees of God, as the cause of their destruction; while their consciences bear witness that they are the willing servants of sin, and the scriptures proclaim the approach of a day when every mouth shall be stopped, and the whole world become guilty before God. Rather let them flee to the footstool of sovereign mercy and forgiveness, as reigning through our Lord Jesus Christ, and as waiting, in the gospel, to be gracious to the most obdurate and vile.

It should direct the sinner convinced of his guilt and moral impotence to the only source of help and salvation; and lead him cheerfully to embrace a scheme which reveals God as determined to magnify the exceeding riches of his grace, by working in man to will and to do of his own good pleasure; to bestow all the blessings of his kingdom without respect of persons; and to bring nigh, the stout-hearted, and far from righteousness. It should urge him to an immediate application to the Son of God, as the Saviour of the guilty and the lost; who has said, in perfect agree­ment with the secret purposes of his Father's love, "Him that cometh to me, I will in nowise cast out."

It reminds believers of the extent of their obligations to the bles­sed God, and should promote their gratitude, love, obedience, and comfort. It says to them, Who maketh you to differ? or what have ye that ye have not received? It points them to the rock from which they have been hewn, and to the hole of the pit from which they have been digged; and teaches them that the blessings to which they are predestined, and which, in part, they have been brought to receive and enjoy, result to them, not on account of their superior merit, but from the distinguishing purpose of God.

In the same proportion, brethren, as you live under the in­fluence of the doctrine of election, you will come into the divine
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presence with the most profound self-abasement; and will ever be willing to ascribe all your present hopes and future prospects to the undeserved favour of a sovereign God.

If you have reason to hope that God has chosen you to all spiritual blessings, in heavenly places, you will surely raise to him the song of adoring gratitude, and ascribe to him all glory, and blessing, and praise. If, on proper grounds, you can conclude that God has loved you with an everlasting love, you will, in return, love him with strong and ardent affections; and, as the fruit of gratitude and love, show forth his praise in your bodies and spirits, which are his. If you can rejoice that God has predestined you to his heavenly kingdom, you may welcome all the tribulations of this vale of sorrows, as the appointed path by which you are to be conducted to the hill of Zion above. Wherefore, be it your concern to recline on the gracious declaration, All things work together for good to them that love God, who are the called according to his purpose.

The doctrine of election may animate our hopes, in reference to the success of the gospel, and the ultimate triumphs of the kingdom of Christ. It assures us, that an innumerable company, out of every nation and kindred, shall be gathered; and that the Redeemer shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied. By the motives to exertion which this doctrine inspires, your ministers ever desire to be actuated, in addressing to sinners the language of solemn warning, and affectionate invitation. Their hopes of success, in this awful, pleasing employ, are derived, not from a carnal mind, which is enmity against God; nor from the self-moved determin­ations of a will which chooses death rather than life; but from the sovereign and fixed purpose of Jehovah, to make his word effectual to all the purposes whereunto he has sent it, and by its means to prepare a people for his kingdom and glory. We anticipate a period, when the earth shall be filled with truth and holiness, fruitfulness ahd peace; when this moral wilderness shall be transformed into a blooming Eden; when heaven shall seem to descend to earth, and the admiring exclamation shall be raised — Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men. But what can secure the fulfilment of these anticipations? Not the employment of any human means; but the outpouring of his Holy Spirit, in the accomplishment of the sovereign and eternal purposes of his will. This, in connexion with the preaching of the gospel, and the dissemination of the scriptures, shall cause to be realized all those beauteous scenes of holiness and felicity, which render the book of prophecy a field of delightful meditation to every holy mind.
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Finally, Brethren, cherish a spirit of forbearance and affection towards all who appear to love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth; though their views may differ from your own in reference to some minor points of Christian doctrine. Be zealous for the truth; but let your zeal be tempered with the meekness and gentleness of Christ. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you; and put on, as the elect of God, bowels of mercies. Charge on the sentiments of no man, consequences which they may seem to involve, but which he solemnly disavows. Hail the prospect of a period, when all the family of heaven shall dwell at the fountain-head of uncreated glory and immortal truth; when, all their prejudices subdued, and all their disaffection healed, they shall sit down, peaceful and harmonious, in the kingdom of their Father and their God. Until the shadows of this imperfect state flee away, and that blisful day arrive, let us all repair, with increasing diligence, to the volume of revelation, and the throne of grace; that we may be led in the good and the right way, and thus find rest to our souls.
JOHN RYLAND, Moderator.
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[From a photocopy of the original at Regents Park College, Angus Library, Oxford, England. -- Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall]



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