Note: All of this Circular is not available; but the section posted shows the serious nature of the annual Letter to the churches that associated. — Jim Duvall
THE CIRCULAR LETTERMaintaining the important Doctrines of Three equal Persons in the Divine Essence — Eternal and Personal Election to Holiness here, and Eternal Life hereafter — the Original Guilt and Depravity of Mankind — Particular Redemption — Free Justification by the imputed Righteousness of Christ alone — Efficacious Grace in Regeneration — and the Perseverance of Saints to Eternal Glory.
From the Ministers and Messengers of the several Baptist Churches
COMPOSING THE KENT and SUSSEX ASSOCIATION
Assembled at LEWES, June 4 & 5, 1822.
TO THE SEVERAL CHURCHES WHICH THEY REPRESENT, OR FROM WHICH THEY HAVE RECEIVED LETTERS;
Meeting at Ashford, Bessel's-Green, Borough-Green, Brenchley, Chatham, Deal, Eynsford, Eythorne, Folkestone, Lessness-Heath, Maidstone, St. Peter's, Sandhurst, Sevenoaks, Sheetness and Tenterden, in KENT; and at Battle, Brighton, Lewes, Rye, and Wadhurst, in SUSSEX.
Grace be to you, and Peace, from God our Father and from Jesus Christ our Lord.
DEARLY BELOVED IN THE LORD,
We acknowledge, with lively gratitude the peculiar favour and indulgent providence of our gracious God, in bringing us once more together to the place of our annual meeting. Having obtained help of God we continue unto this day. His goodness and mercy have hitherto followed us, and to Him we look; and on Him we place our confidence, that He will guide and keep us through the residue of our pilgrimage.
The sincere regard we feel for the Churches with which we are severally united, excites in us a lively concern for their spiritual welfare, and that their fellowship one with another may be mutually beneficial and comfortable.
We, who are your Ministers and Pastors, are incessantly praying and labouring to promote your establishment in the truth, and to help you forward in your Christian progress; to this end we are, from time to time, particularly engaged in explaining to you the good word of God. and enforcing your regard to the many important truths of our holy religion.
As we are now met together as your representatives, we are led to consider that the great objects of our ministerial labours may be further promoted, by our sending you an affectionate Letter, (as we have done heretofore,) containing such godly admonitions, exhortations, and encouragements, as we hope will be both seasonable and profitable to you.
The Reports we have received at this meeting, from the several Churches which compose this Association, are generally favourable; but some few are in trouble: with these we sympathize — and earnestly pray that the Great Head of the Church would sanctify their sorrows, and restore comforts to them and to their mourners.
It affords us much pleasure to learn that, in some good degree, you are in peace; that you steadfastly maintain the truth as it is in Jesus, and walk worthy of your high calling; and we are led to hope, from present appearances, that you will increase and abound therein yet more and more. We sincerely wish that, as Churches of Christ in fellowship one with another, you may always manifest a cordial attachment to gospel truth in its purity, and live by the faith of the Son of God; that you may experience much of the power of godliness in your own souls, and "love one another, as God for Christ's sake hath loved you;" that you may be watchful and diligent, and by the fruits of holiness may "adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things." — If this, beloved, be your prevailing experience and character as Churches of Christ, you are higly favoured indeed! then we can cheerfully congratulate you, and rejoice over you; — you are the blessed of the Lord; — you are builded together for an habitation of God, through the Spirit; — the Lord is with you as your supreme Head and Sovereign, who will never leave you nor forsake you; but will grant you the continued supply of His Holy Spirit, whereby you shall be refreshed, animated, and comforted, in your intercourse with each other, and in all your meetings and sacred exercises, whether public or social: Psalm cxv. 15. Ephesians ii. 22. Matthew xviii. 10. Ephesians iii. 16-19. Isaiah xl. 31. Then shall that gracious declaration and promise in Zepheniah iii. 17, be realized by you: "The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love; He will joy over thee with singing." Then will you see the power and glory of God in the sanctuary, and experience "how good and how pleasant it is for Brethren to dwell together in unity." And if you are thus favoured, thus united, and thus actuated, you will occasion both friends and enemies to say of you, "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel," Psalm lxiii 5, and cxxxiii. 1. Numbers xxiv. 5.
Brethren, we are comforted over you; for now "we live if ye stand fast in the Lord," 1Thessalonians iii. 7, 8.
But while we look upon you in general with pleasure, and hope that it is well with you, yet, is there no reason to fear that, in some of our Churches, there are grounds for uncomfortable apprehensions? Are there none among us who manifest a mournful contrast to that peace and prosperity which others experience? Examine yourselves, Brethren, and pray one for another: "looking diligently, lest any one fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness, springing up, should trouble and defile yourselves or others." — We entreat you to search, and to pray over, the following Scriptures: Jeremiah ii. 1. Hebrews iii. 1 Timothy iii. 1-5. Philippians iii. 18-19. Romans xii. 1. James iv. 11, &c. and Hebrews xii. 11.
We would hope, Brethren, that there are not many, if any of you, who are so unwatchful or unfruitful, as to display a temper and conduct unbecoming that holy gospel you profess; nor yet any who rest satisfied with the mere external appearances of religion, without the experience of its vital power in their own souls. And should any of you have declined, and gone backward, and are sunk into a Laodicean lukewarmness, we exhort you to attend to the compassionate call of your heavenly Father, in Jeremiah iii. 19. "Return, ye backsliding Children, and I will heal your backslidings." Examine yourselves, therefore by the word of God, 1 Corinthians xiii. 13; and remember whence you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works, Revelation ii. 5.; and, if you are truly sensible that you have departed from the Lord, look up to Him who is "a God that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgressions of the remnant of His heritage, Micah vii. 11; "Remembering that we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous," John ii. 1. and a throne of grace, to which we are directed to apply in humble prayer, for the Holy Spirit to sanctify and cleanse us "from all our filthiness, and from all our idols, Hebrews iv. 11. Luke xi. 1-11. Ezekiel xxxvi. 11.
I. But while we are affectionately desirous of the spiritual prosperity of all our Churches, and either rejoice or lament on their account, we are persuaded it will have a good infuence on your minds, to call to your remembrance the former days when you first gave yourselves to the Lord; and especially to bear in mind, that your profession of the gospel is a very solemn engagement. You were, in your unconverted state, alienated from the life of God; — children of disobedience; — under the grip and power of sin; — the wrath of God was revealed from heaven against you, and you were without strength; — wretched, miserable, and forlorn; — trusting in yourselves, and living
to yourselves; see Ephesians iv. 23; Romans i. 18 and 6, &c. In this state of darkness and of death you were, when it pleased the Lord to call you into His marvelous light; when he convinced you of your danger, and led you to look unto Jesus; and, through believing on Him, you obtained forgiveness with God, and found peace in your own souls; — you applied to the throne of grace, in that new and living way consecrated for you by the great sacrifice and perfect righteousness of your exalted High Priest; and, through the influence of His grace, you became His visible disciples, and were not ashamed to "go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." Having avowed your sincere attachment to the gospel, as the only word of your salvation, you have declared your cordial attachment to the Lord Jesus Christ, by being baptized in his name; and, turning away from a sinful world, have united with the house-hold of God, in Christian fellowship, and become visible members of the Church of the first born, whose names are written in heaven: 1 Peter ii. 9, Acts ii. 37-47. viii. 5-12. ix. 6-22. xvi, 14. xv. 29-34. Hebrews xii. 22-42.
This is an important engagement indeed! for hereby you have virtually and most solemnly declared, in the sight of God, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and before angels and men, that you looked for complete and everlasting salvation to Him alone who is mighty to save; and that you no longer depended on your own works and deservings to justify and save you, but trusted in the great atonement and complete righteousness of Him who is "able to save to the uttermost," for the pardon of sin, acceptance with God, and eternal life; and, by this sacred engagement, you have professed that you were "dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God; and that henceforth you would live "not unto yourselves, but unto Him who died and rose again for you." 1 Corinthians v. 15.
We wish not to entertain a doubt of the sincerity of your profession, but would conclude that you have received the Lord Jesus Christ, by faith unfeigned; that you are quickened to a divine life, by the Holy Spirit; and that you have made a cordial and joyful surrender of yourselves, with all your hearts and souls to "Him who hath loved you and redeemed you by His blood;" and we hope it will further appear that you are going on your way rejoicing, and are found walking worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called; that you are growing and increasing with all the increase of God; and are reaching forth and pressing forward "toward the mark, for the prize of your high calling of God in Christ Jesus." That you may live and walk agreeably to your profession of the gospel, we beseech you to suffer the word of exhortation a little further.
II. We would remind you of the importance of "cleaving to the Lord with purpose of heart, and of haivng our minds staid upon Him. This should be your leading and invariable object, and considered as essential to all vital and experimental religion. The blessed God is the fountain of life and happiness to His people, who are "renewed in the spirit of their minds," and brought near to Him through Jesus Christ. They were once, by nature, children of wrath even as others; but having received the gospel, not in word only, but in demonstration of the spirit, and having by his energy believed in Jesus, they are made nigh by the blood of His cross; He having suffered to bring them to God, and to gather together as one the children of God who were scattered abroad. Ephesians iv. 18, Romans viii. 7. Ephesians ii 13. l Peter iii. 18. John xi.
If, Brethren, you are thus brought near to God; — are thus united to him in an indissoluble relation, as your God and Father; and are thus manifested to be the happy objects of the immutable love of Him, who hath promised to be always with you, and to grant you all needful supplies of grace and strength; then surely it should be your uniform desire and concern to live in fellowship with Him, that your souls may be replenished, and that the streams which flow from this fountain of living water, may daily refresh, purify, and comfort you, and be to you as "a well of water, springing up unto everlasting life." Jeremiah ii. 13. John iv. 14; This rich provision of divine grace, calls for unceasing thanksgiving and praise to our covenant God, and is a powerful motive to lead you to the throne of grace in earnest prayer, for every needful supply. You should likewise have your minds stayed on the Lord by devout meditation on his infinite perfections and supreme glories; and on His wonderful works in nature, providence, and grace. You should with gratitude think on His goodness and mercy in regard to your temporal comforts; in granting you needful supplies; in upholding and preserving you; in continuing your natural powers, and renderning you comfortable in your social connections; and above all in having blessed you with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, and in indulging you with so many privileges as you now enjoy. These pertetual and numerous favours bestowed on you are subjects, which, when seriously considered, become powerful motives to pure and ardent devotion. Such displays which the great Jehovah hath given you, of His perfections and His works; of His providential goodness and His abounding grace; not only call for continued praise, but also for holy admiration, reverence, and godly fear. You ought constantly to be observant of the Lord's dealings with you; to regard the operations of his hands; to place you trust and
confidence in Him at all times; to submit to all His appointments and chastisements; to be patient in tribulation, and learn contentment in every station; and to hope in His gracious promises, under the assurance of His inviolable faithfulness. While you are thus looking to the Lord, you should also have a grateful sense of your obligation to be conscientiously subject to His divine authority; and to make it the business of your lives to be conformed to His holy will, and "to glorify Him in your bodies and in your spirits, which are God's." And if you in heart and soul cleave to the Lord, abide in Christ, and live and walk in the "Spirit," you will then enjoy happy fellowship with the triune Jehovah, and stand advanced to the highest and most sublime honour and happiness which can be enjoyed in the present state; which is a certain pledge and earnest of the full fruition of the ever-blessed God, in everlasting glory.
The book of Psalms very particularly illustrates the nature and importance of the subject. Therein are the strongest indications of a heart devoted to God; striking expressions of humble acknowledgement, of ardent affection, of believing confidence, and of praver and praise. This Book, considered as applicable to David in regard to his sentiments and experience, gives us an idea of the divine testimony concerning him, as a man of God after His own heart. Acts xiii. 22.
III. We will call your attention to another subject. While we consider the blessed GOD in His glorious perfections, and in His wonderful grace, it is necessary for us to think of ourselves, and to consider what we are in His sight, that we may always be humble before Him. Christian Humility is recommended and enjoined throughout the word of God. This grace (or as it may be considered a silent and passive quality of the mind,) is represented in Scripture as being truly amaiable, and ornamental to the character of the children of God. — it stands opposed to pride and self-exaltation. There are many reasous why we should be humble: It is approved of God; it is accompanied with peace in our souls; and it is beneficial in social life. To have a low opinion of ourselves is proper and becoming, considering what we are in ourselves; what we are in the sight of God; and how we stand with our fellow creatures. What we are in oursleves is known to God; who, being omnipresent, is always near us, observing our hearts, and conduct, and, being omniscient, He knows us, in regard to every humbling circumstance belonging to us, Psalm cxxxix. 2-12.
As Creatures, we are diminutive indeed! for all nations before him are as nothing and "vanity." Isaiah xl. 17. But we are fallen creatures; polluted by sin, and are guilty before Him who is holy, just, and
the Churches in their Epistles. To cultivate this social affection, and manifest the sincerity of it in all your deprotment one with another, and with watchfulness and care guarding against whatever may tend to a contrary temper and conduct, will greatly contribute to the peace of your own souls, and to the prosperity of our Churches. To this end, we beg you will read and consider, John xiii. 34, 35. 1 John iv. 7-12, 20, 21. Ephesians v. 2. 1 Peter i. 22. 1 Thessalonians iv. 9. 1 John iii. 10-24. Ephesians v. 23-32 and v. 2. Psalm cxxxiii.1. 2 Corinthains xiii. 11.
VII. Permit us to add a few words more, and to call your attention to your obligations at large, respecting a holy obedience to the will of God. The New Testament abounds with solemn precepts, and pressing exhortations to a holy life; at the same time the gospel teacheth you, and your profession of it implies, that your salvation is "not by works of righteousness which you have done," or can do; but entirely of the free grace of God, through the mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ: but it should always be considered, that obedience to God our Saviour is the genuine effect of grace in the heart, the fruit of the Spirit, and the result of faith. The whole revelation of the gospel call you to consdier "what manner of persons you ought to be in all holy conversation and godliness," and as a holy conformity to Christ is the effect of saving grace, so it is the proper evidence that we know the grace of God in truth; that we are born of God, and are interested in His great salvation. See Titus ii. 11, 12. 1 Peter i. 13-16. 2 Peter iii. 11.
Brethren, you were "chosen in Christ that you might be holy," and predestinated "to be conformed to the Son of God"; Ephesians i. 4. Romans viii. 29. for without holiness you cannot enjoy fellowship with God here, or happiness with Him hereafter. It is not your weakness, or even your depravity, that can be a plea for disobedience; or yet the abundant grace of God bestowed on you that can, in any wise, supersede your obligations to love Him and keep His commandments; for this is the will of God that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not grevious.
We must now conclude, earnestly recommending what we have written, to your serius attention; and fervently praying the Lord the Spirit to render it profitable to your present peace, and continued progress in the ways of God.
"Finally, Brethren, Farewell. Be perfect — be of good comfort — be of one mind — live in peace — and the God of love and peace shall be with you." Amen.
Signed, in behalf of the whole. JOHN STANGER
[From the Kent and Sussex Baptist Association (England) Minutes, 1822. A copy from the Angus Library, Regents Park Baptist College, Oxford, England.]
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