THE CIRCULAR LETTER FROM THE Ministers and Messengers OF THE BAPTIST CONGREGATIONAL ASSOCIATED CHURCHES. (BERKSHIRE, GLOUCESTERSHIRE, OXFORDSHIRE, WARWICKSHIRE. WORCESTERSHIRE.) - ASSEMBLED AT OXFORD, May 20 and 21, 1834. -
Receiving the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as their only guide in faith and practice; and thence deriving their belief in the important doctrines of Three Equal persons in the Divine Essence - Eternal and Personal Election - Original Sin - Particular Redemption - Free Justification by the imputed Righteousness of Jesus Christ - Efficacious Grace in Regeneration - The final perseverance of Believers - The Resurrection of the Dead - The last Judgment The everlasting Punishment of the Impenitent - And the Happiness of the Righteous.
To the several Christian Societies which they represent.
By D. White, Gloucestershire
WE have been permitted to witness the return of our annual meeting, and in it have experienced renewed tokens of our Saviour's care and faithfulness; the religious services have been impressive and refreshing, and the letters from the churches unusually encouraging; your prosperity has awakened our gratitude, and our united prayers have been offered that you may be increasingly useful and prosperous; to these we now add our affectionate counsels.
The present is unquestionably a day of great religious profession, but we would affectionately and faithfully remind you, that it is not enough to profess a regard for the Saviour, or his cause; it is the religion of the heart, and that alone, which God regards, and which will be of any avail to us in that day to which we are all hastening; that day in which our Saviour reminds us many will say unto him, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name done many wonderful works;" to whom he will profess, "I never knew you;" our profession will then be tried by Omniscience, our actions weighed in the balances of the Sanctuary, and our motives analyzed by a Righteous Judge.
We desire to address you, dear brethren, in the exercise of that spirit of Christian watchfulness and godly jealousy, which we owe to each other, and plainly, faithfully, and affectionately warn you against every thing inconsistent with, or prejudicial to, your Christian profession; thus hoping in some measure to realize the practical efficiency of our association, and being helpers of each other's joy here, to rejoice together in the day of our Lord.
Convinced that nothing is more inconsistent with a profession of the Gospel than selfishness, we earnestly invite your attention to the subject of our present letter; The prevalence, tendency, and criminality of selfishness, in professors of religion.
We address you then as professors of religion, as wishing to be considered as the friends of the Redeemer, as having enlisted under his banners, renounced the world, and given yourselves to him. Selfishness is inconsistent and injurious in any of the children of men, but more especially in those who profess a regard to the authority of the gospel; indeed so grossly is this principle opposed to the whole spirit and genius of Christianity, that we might be almost led to question the possibility of its existence in any of its professed disciples, but the proofs of it are too palpable to be denied, and its existence, and prevalence, call for deep humiliation before God.
The subject of our address demands your most serious and prayerful attention, and we think we scarcely need say, bear with us, while we address you with all plainness of speech, and honesty, as in the sight of God.
Selfishness is an inordinate and exclusive regard to our own supposed interests, gain, or gratification, in all we do; the making something of our own the primary, though often concealed object, of our attention and pursuit; self in some form or other being the only ruling, controlling, stimulating principle, whether in the world or in the church, in the ordinary avocations of life, or the more sacred engagements of religion; it is as the apostle Paul expresses it, "Seeking our own things, not the things which are Jesus Christ's."* Where this principle exists and predominates, every interest is neglected but our own; every claim, however imperative or sacred, resisted, but as it appears to bear upon this point; nothing is regarded for its own sake, but as it suits and serves some selfish feeling or purpose.
This principle is deeply rooted in our fallen nature, it springs up early in the human heart, advances with our growth, and strengthens with our strength; it is the great design of the Gospel to subdue it, and to establish a higher and holier principle in the human mind, to teach those who have been only lovers of themselves to love God supremely, serve him disinterestedly, and unreservedly to devote themselves to his glory; "That they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them ;"+ hence the inconsistency of it in professors of religion, yet who can doubt its existence? who that knows his
* Philippians 2, 21.
+ ii Corinthians 5, 15.
own heart but has detected it, in some one or other of those multifarious forms it assumes? it conceals itself indeed oftentimes by very specious names, yet our acquaintance with ourselves and the professing world, must have been very superficial indeed, not to have convinced us, not merely of its existence, but its awful prevalence, and thus "he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."*
Selfishness has often been discovered when least suspected, and a severe self scrutiny would, it is to be feared, make many an action applauded by the world, appear little less than odious, and abase many a character standing high in the estimation of a flippant and superficial age. A thorough acquaintance with the real motives of our actions, would shew us that we ought to be greatly humbled for what now engenders a feeling of vanity and self-complacency.
This disposition discovers itself, whenever in our professed regard to religion, we are influenced by a selfish motive, when our concern is not so much how we may serve and honour God, and benefit our fellow men, as how we may serve and please ourselves; it is but too evident that love of popularity, love of power, love of worldly reputation, are the ruling principles with many, rather than a love for usefulness, rather than a delight in religious duties and engagements, for their own sake. When our efforts in the cause of truth and piety are limited by considerations of personal advantage, or individual gratification, we make it evident that selfishness is our ruling principle; when the authority of religion is regarded only while it suits some purpose of our own, the claims of the Gospel yielded to while they infringe not on our interest or reputation, or ease and indulgence, but no further, we exhibit the real spirit of selfishness; sometimes a profession of religion is assumed solely for the purpose of furthering some sordid and selfish designs: we cannot think of such cases but with mingled feelings of grief and disgust, we would hope they are comparatively rare, this however may be only because the temptations to it are fewer.
The spirit of selfishness does not indeed exist in all these forms in the same character, nor always in the same degree; in some it is formed into a habit, in others it is only occasional, but its prevalence cannot be denied; it does indeed appear to have been
* Ecclesiastes 1, 18.
the besetting sin of the professing world in every period of timer Ezekiel the Prophet complained of those in his day, "With their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness;"* so the Apostle Paul complained, "All seek their own things, not the things which are Jesus Christ's." + In forewarning his beloved Timothy of the perilous times which awaited the Church in the last days, he says, "Men shall be lovers of their own selves ;"** nor is there we fear much difficulty in discovering this sign of the approach, at least, of these perilous times, in the widely extended influence of this unhallowed principle - this spot on our feasts of charity - this incubus on the energies of the Christian Church.
Yes brethren, is there not reason to fear that "the honour, the truth, and the equity, with which man proudly thinks his nature to be embellished, are often reared on the basis of selfishness, and lie prostrate in the dust when that basis is cut away?"++ - that many splendid acts of charity, if carefully analyzed, would yield this principle alone, or be found greatly to preponderate? - that many showy efforts to promote and extend the interests of religion, have originated and terminated in selfishness? The spirit of Jehu is not yet extinct: "Come see my zeal for the Lord of Hosts;"x but this, "however it may procure the applause of men, must be an abomination in His sight, who is the discerner of all secrets, as emanating from a principle which is at utter variance with the charity that prepares for the enjoyments, and that glows in the bosoms of the celestial."xx Nor is this sordid principle confined to the more open and showy actions, it invades the secrecy of the closet and the solemn engagements of the sanctuary; we may rise from our knees under the influence of self-adulation, rather than self-abasement; other objects may be sought in our attendance upon the means of grace, than the glory of God, and that spiritual instruction, and gracious influence, by which we may be brought into a closer conformity to the mind of God; to be seen of men, to gratify some peculiarity of sentiment, or of taste, may influence us, rather than a hungering and thirsting for the bread and water of life; praise to God may be the language of the lip, self-approbation the feeling of the heart; expressions of the deepest humiliation and self-abasement may originate in pride, and we may
* Ezekiel 33, 31.
** Philippians 2, 21.
+ ii Timothy 3, 2.
++ Chalmers's Discourses, p. 84.
x ii Kings, 10, 16.
xx Chalmers, p. 78.
return from the sanctuary of God inflated by spiritual pride, rather than in the spirit of self-loathing and contrition; in apparent strenuous efforts and deep concern for the honour and prosperity of the church, a pertinacious adherence to our own opinion, and a bigotted attachment to our own sect or party, may after all be the ruling feeling: this is seeking our own things, and not the things of Jesus Christ. That this is not a fancy picture, or overstrained statement, an appeal to our own hearts, a reference to our own experience, will fully testify; has it not been the subject of our honest confessions and of our deepest humiliations before God?
But in our search for the existence and prevalence of selfishness, our difficulty is to ascertain where it is not, rather than where it is; it is not meant to insinuate that it exists every where that there is no purity of motive or disinterested zeal, but that we are every where and under all circumstances in danger of it, and cannot be too jealous of it, or too watchful against it, for it is the besetting sin of the novice and the sage, of the most obscure professor and the public orator; it is the great instrument employed by the Adversary of the Church, to tarnish her glory and restrain her usefulness. In our unregenerate state, this selfish principle reigns uncontrolled, it is the design of divine grace to subdue, regulate, and eradicate it; but the conflict is often severe and protracted, nor will it successfully terminate but with our mortal existence; during every stage of our pilgrimage, we are in danger of having our high and holy principles supplanted by this spirit of selfishness, in the form of self-applause, self-will, self aggrandizement, or self-indulgence.
The tendency of selfishness is, and must necessarily be, very pernicious. It is so directly at variance with the nature and tendency of true religion, that its prevalence must tend to bring the sincerity of our Christian profession into doubt, and thus to produce a discouraging influence on our own minds, and those of our fellow Christians. He who is reluctant to mortify and deny himself for the service and cause of God, may well suspect whether he has tasted that God is gracious, or must conclude that true piety is with him at a low ebb; "For he who thinks much of what he gives, and much of what he does, to promote the cause and glory
of God, and much of what he suffers for him, has but little affection for God's holy name; and the reverse of all this is true religion."*
The prevalence of a selfish spirit must therefore greatly tend to bring the Christian profession into disrepute, it will excite and confirm the prejudices of the irreligious against it, for if they see such persons penurious, covetous, self-willed, and self-important, will they not be reasonably led to ask, "what do ye more than others?"
It is unfriendly, yea directly opposed to personal piety, for it encourages some of the worst passions of the human heart - pride, envy, censoriousness, &c.; and where there is a feeling and seeking after something eke, whatever it may be, other than spiritual blessings, than what contributes to the growth of holiness, and conformity to the will of God, we may obtain what we desire, but our personal piety will suffer, the mind is absorbed by objects that are low, mean, and unworthy, things which not only debilitate and debase it themselves, but drain it off from those which are invigorating, purifying, and elevating. Of this it may be observed, as it has most correctly of covetousness, "There is probably no propensity more opposed to the influence of the gospel, or which more cripples the soul, in going in the path of God's commandments. How much of the good seed of the kingdom that was springing up with the promise of a plentiful harvest, has this weed of rank luxuriance choked, that it has become unfruitful!" + Nor is it less true "that even if this- principle is not brought into active and perceptible motion, it is destructive of the life of religion, and, unless subdued by grace, is most fatal in its effects"x - the state of the mind becomes morbid under its influence, and is constantly hankering after the unnatural things which tend to nourish the disease, while the pure and wholesome truths of the Gospel are rejected; by it many a fair professor of religion has been laid prostrate, and the work of divine grace greatly checked and retarded. We cannot but think, that those who are constantly and exclusively seeking for comfort under the gospel ministry, and who reject the faithful admonitions, warnings, and reproofs of God's word, are guilty of a species of selfishness which contributes not to spiritual health; it is a sort of spiritual voluptuousness to
* Christian Preacher, vol. 3, p. 228.
+ Bridges on 119th Ps. p. 92.
x Ibid. p. 93.
be satisfied with nothing but the highest luxuries, which, in due season and just proportion, are invaluable, but injudiciously used, become highly injurious. Self love makes us blind to our own faults, lenient to our own errors, its language is "Prophesy smooth things, prophesy smooth things;" it gives the preference to a partial Gospel, while our real advantage, and that of others, require the most faithful and searching application of the whole truth of God: "Give me," said the amiable Pearce, "the preacher who opens the folds of my heart; who accuses me, convicts and condemns me before God; who loves my soul too well to suffer me to go on in sin unreproved."
Selfishness tends to restrain, deteriorate, and counteract our efforts in the cause both of God and man. How is it that so many professors of religion do so little? that there is so great a disproportion between their efforts and their means and opportunities? that they are so profuse in their own indulgence, but care so little for the cause of God? Is it not attributable to the spirit of selfishness? Self is put in competition with the claims of Christian charity; before a step is taken, its bearing upon our own ease, our own party, or our own advantage, is consulted, rather than the excellency or the urgency of the cause for which our aid Is solicited; hence arise so much hesitation, contractedness, and indifference; little is often done, and that little with reluctance, but "God loves a cheerful giver;" it comes not therefore with a blessing, and the manner of it is so chilling and forbidding as to counteract the little that is attempted. Selfishness will allow us to serve God, and exert ourselves in his cause, no longer than while self is gratified. Is any sacrifice of time, of ease, of property, of worldly reputation called for, it at once, under cover of prudential motives, bars and restrains all our operations; this produces great inconstancy and irregularity of conduct, our own interests come into collision with the interests of the church, or the cause of truth, and the latter are made to yield; but where this is our motive, or where it mixes itself up in any way with our efforts in the cause of God, how is their worth diminished! and their efficiency and usefulness counteracted!
Selfishness is also greatly opposed to the prosperity and extension of the Christian Church. If it be indeed prejudicial to personal piety,
if it narrows and limits the operations of Christian charity, then it cannot but be unfriendly to the prosperity of the Christian Church: but there are other feelings engendered by it, equally hostile to its welfare. To what but this must we ascribe those frequent bickerings, fiery disputations, and unhappy divisions, with which the Church is so often afflicted? Selfishness naturally tends to promote disunion, by setting up as many interests as there are individuals, and thus to destroy that oneness of spirit, of feeling, and of aim, which is the peculiar beauty and glory of a Christian community; the prosperity of the Church is lost sight of, under the influence of such unhallowed feelings, and her glory and advancement are sacrificed at the shrine of a sordid selfishness: with this feeling the cause of Christ may decline, so that our authority is maintained, our personal feelings gratified, or oar point gained. This, dear brethren, is the canker worm of our profession, secretly, but with fearful efficiency depriving it, first of its strength, and then of its beauty.
Neither can we ascribe to any other than a selfish feeling, the conduct of those who make a minister of the Gospel an offender for a word, or who neglect, or aim, by a quibbling and contentious spirit, to disturb and counteract the ministry of laborious, faithful, and humble men, because it does not come up to their standard of sentiment, feeling, or taste: what is this but a refined selfishness? and what can we conceive more prejudicial to the Christian cause? Selfishness is a great hindrance to Christian fellowship and communion; there is nothing enlarged, noble, or refined in its nature, but it is contracted, cold, and sordid; it dries up the spirit of christian sympathy; it is forbidding and repulsive in its aspect'; it is calculated to excite no feeling but that of discouragement or contempt. "There are some, "says a late distinguished writer, "who live solely to themselves, who are so perfectly absorbed in selfishness as to neglect all around them, who regard whatever does not conduce to their own immediate gain or pleasure as so much loss: the proper feeling we should entertain towards such is that of supreme contempt ;" * —such a spirit must be exceedingly unfriendly to a free and enlarged communion with those whose bosoms glow with a Saviour's love, and who are cherishing an expansive benevolence to their fellow men. Selfishness makes us
* Hall's Works, vol. 6, p. 329.
indifferent about all but ourselves, and indifference creates disgust; at must therefore have a baneful influence on individual piety, and •on the prosperity and loveliness of a Christian community.
There is one thing observable of selfishness, and which should make us very jealous of it, and that is, that it grows upon indulgence, and by yielding to it, we are in the most imminent danger of becoming completely enslaved by it.
Moreover, it is worthy of notice, that selfishness in most or all of its forms commonly defeats its own end: when au individual is seen manifestly thinking only of himself, caring only for himself, bent on self-elevation, self-indulgence, or self-aggrandizement, a spontaneous feeling of disgust is excited in every truly pious mind, and no one regrets his disappointment and mortification; God also, in his providence, oftentimes appears to have set upon this disposition the broad and legible mark of his disapprobation: see the history of Ha man.
The selfish, often indeed, gain the giddy eminence for which they have laboured, regardless of the interests of religion, the prosperity of their souls, and the glory of God; but the attainment has been connected with some mortifying circumstance or other, which has rendered it worthless to the possessor; this has especially been the case where men of the character of Diotrephes have appeared in the church, they have had their way, they have carried the paint upon which they were bent, reckless of all consequences, and what has been their reward, but the unenviable satisfaction of beholding the desolation and ruin of a cause which has been sacrificed to the Moloch of their selfishness 1 indeed the selfish man is subject to perpetual mortifications, and we can scarcely conceive a more pitiable object. If we would promote our own happiness, it must be by seeking it in combination with, and making it subservient to, that of others, and the glory of God; by making the things of Christ the first and supreme object of our pursuit, and subjecting every selfish consideration to their control, we shall most effectually promote our own honour and happiness, for the immutable law of heaven is "He that exalteth himself shall be abased, but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted; * and "Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed." +
* Matthew 23, 12.
+ i Samuel, 2, 30.
From what has already been advanced, the criminality of selfishness must be apparent, yet there are a few other considerations on this point which claim your serious attention. The criminality of selfishness is evident from it opposition to the authority, will, and glory of God; it is the creature opposing himself to his Creator; disputing the right of the moral Governor of the universe to rule over and direct his subjects according to his own will, and for his own glory; it withholds from God that which he justly claims, resists what he reasonably enjoins; if carried out, is subversive of all the designs of his moral government, and is strictly and properly idolatrous!
Selfishness is alike opposed to the Law and the Gospel: the law requires supreme love to God for his own sake, but the spirit of selfishness encourages us to love him only, or principally, for our own sakes; the law gives God the first and highest claim, but this puts the claims of self foremost; the law requires universal and unreserved obedience, but this disposes to love and serve God only as we can serve ourselves: how sinful is such a principle! Who does not shudder at the thought of harbouring it in his own heart! Equally is it opposed to the other branch of the moral law, which requires us to love our neighbour as ourselves; for selfishness promotes a partial or total indifference to every interest but our own. Nor is it less contrary to the grace of the gospel, than the authority of the law. The Gospel is a system of grace; the spirit of enlarged and disinterested benevolence breathes in every page, is embodied in every doctrine, is enforced by every precept, and supported by the example of Christ and his apostles; its great design is to deliver and preserve us from its debasing influence, and to establish the dominion of love and grace in the heart, "casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ."* All the doctrines of the gospel are based upon a principle that is opposed to selfishness; their tendency is to give the pre-eminence to Christ in all things, to make man nothing in the plan of salvation, and God all in all. How incongruous in those who profess the Gospel, is the indulgence of that principle which does as it were deify self! and is repugnant to the spirit of the Gospel and subversive of its design!
* ii Corinthians 10, 5.
The obligations of the Gospel make the criminality of selfish nes9 apparent; what do we not owe to the Saviour for what he has done for us! "he pleased not himself, spared not himself, came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and gave his life a ransom for many; he was rich, but for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich ;"* "he gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works;"+ therefore says the apostle, "Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."x Selfishness ungratefully resists these claims, or only accedes to them partially and reluctantly, yields not a prompt, a cheerful, and unreserved consecration, but pauses, and calculates, and asks what may be gained and what may be lost! Oh what a spectacle to angels, who marked with rapturous delight the speed with which the Saviour flew to our relief, who saw him lay aside the robes of heavenly majesty, and take upon himself the form of a servant for our salvation!
"Such base ingratitude as this,
What heart but must detest!
Sure Christ deserves the noblest place
In every human breast."
If selfishness be thus criminal in its character, and baneful in its tendency, surely it becomes us, dear brethren, very carefully to examine ourselves, lest any of this accursed leaven should be hidden in our hearts; nor should we be content with making this search alone, but should implore the assistance of the all-searching eye of God; without this divine aid we may be sure it will escape detection, it conceals itself under such self-pleasing forms, and we are inclined to look so leniently upon its operations, that nothing but this can give the slightest hope of detecting it: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting;"** and if detected, in however low a degree, let us seek its immediate and entire removal; let us not parley with it, nor allow it any quarter, but resolve, in dependence upon the Divine Spirit -
"Dagon before the Ark shall fall,
And God in Christ be all in all."
* ii Corinthians 8, 9.
+ Titus 3,14.
x i Cor. 6,19—20.
** Psalm 139, 23-24.
Let us also learn the great importance and necessity of a constant and prayerful watchfulness against this unhallowed spirit; we are in danger of it at every point, and at all seasons, and it is only by unceasing prayer, and watching thereunto with all perseverance, that we can reasonably hope to be preserved from it; to this end let us, in a special manner, seek an abundant effusion of the renewing, purifying, and quickening influences of the Holy Spirit; and in dependence thereupon, let us regularly and seriously examine the records of Eternal Truth, there numerous and beautiful examples are given, of ardent zeal, self-denial, disinterested love, and uncompromising devotedness; let us aim to catch their spirit and tread in their footsteps; more especially "let the same mind be in us, which was also in Christ Jesus; who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant;"* let us yield ourselves unreservedly to the constraining influence of the love of Christ; this will enable us to overcome the restraints which the cold calculations of a selfish policy would impose upon us; it will give to the mind a tone, a warmth, and elasticity, by which it will be prepared for a prompt, self-denying, and persevering engagedness in the work of the Lord -
"Then, if a messenger thou ask,
A labourer for the hardest task,
Through all our weakness and our fear,
Love shall reply, Thy servant 's here."
From such an elevation of our principles, and enlargement of our hearts, the most beneficial results may be anticipated; our personal piety will be advanced, our spiritual comfort promoted, our usefulness increased, our profession adorned, religion recommended, the Church of Christ prospered, and God greatly glorified.
* Philippians 2, 5-6-7.
[From a booklet of The Baptist Congregational Associated Churches, 1834, pp. 1-14. Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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