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The First Circular Letter of the Baptist
Missionaries to the Churches in Jamaica
Forming the Baptist Association Assembled
At East Queen Street, Kingston, 1836
“On Conversion”
Dear Brethren,
      WITH feelings of the liveliest interest in your eternal welfare, and most ardent concern for the spirituality of our Churches, we desire to address you as your Ministers and Pastors, in Christ Jesus.

      The present aspect of affairs in this country cannot fail to interest every reflective and pious mind. Events great and unlooked for are taking place - facilities are multiplying for the accomplishment of various purposes of benevolence; and a mighty change is passing on the whole mass of society.

      In the great and extended movements, moral and religious, which are now exciting the attention of Christians - the Church of the Redeemer in this island has largely participated. As a section of that Church, in common with other Christian Societies, we have cause for rejoicing; God has done great things for us, whereof we are glad. Many of our Churches have arisen from their lately depressed state, with increased powers of exertion and usefulness - large additions have been made to our Society - fresh Congregations gathered - and Churches formed; and your Pastors have been mercifully, though undeservedly spared, to fulfil among you the ministry they have received.

      But while we would earnestly entreat you, dear Brethren, to unite with us in gratefully recording the past mercies of our God, and to rejoice in the present indications of future prosperity, there is one subject, to which we are peculiarly anxious to call your most serious attention-namely: The great, the indispensible necessity of personal heartfelt religion - lest, amidst a rich luxuriency of profession, there should not be found a corresponding degree of reality.

Suffer us therefore, to bring the matter home to your bosoms, not in the spirit of rancour or censoriousness, but with Christian affection, speaking the truth in love; while we set before you what we conceive to be a scriptural view of that great change of heart, which the word of God emphatically describes as being born again. Though we would cease not, dear Brethren, to give thanks unto God, on your behalf, for the working of His mighty power in the hearts of many; in the cases of not a few, we cannot fail to perceive, with the deepest solicitude, a want of that spiritual illumination - lowly walking with God, and growing conformity to the Divine Image, which must ever accompany a vital union with Christ, and without which all our religion is for if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

      To become a Christian, is to experience a change the most important that can possibly take place in this world - not a partial, but a thorough change, which diffuses its influence over the whole soul, and imparts to the mind a new set of feelings, inclinations, and tastes. While we continue to occupy the same station in society, to sustain the same relationship in life, and to perform the same duties, we have new perceptions of spiritual objects, of the character and perfections of God, the work and person of Christ, and of all the plan of salvation. We enter on a new state of existence, with regard to things that are unseen and eternal.

      Conversion does not consist in forsaking some sins, while you retain and cherish others, neither is it the effect of circumstances or association; these may produce a reformation of manners, and leave the heart untouched. By a change of residence you may be separated from your former associates, and brought into connexion with others, whose influence and society may give a new bias to your thoughts and affections. Without any specific aim you may be induced to attend religious worship, and, pleased with the excitement of public devotion, and the notice of professors, you may begin to imagine yourselves pious; and, as in making a profession, there may be no cross to take up, unite yourselves with a Christian society, go with the multitude, and think you are safe, while you still continue strangers to the plague. of your own hearts, and destitute of that holiness, without which

no man can see the Lord. The giving yourselves to the Church, unless you have first given yourselves to Christ, can neither be a reasonable service, nor an acceptable sacrifice to God. It is nothing better than a solemn mockery of your Maker, while you are practising a most awful deception upon your own souls. The very thought of this is frightfully alarming, yet under this delusion many will lie down in the grave with a lie in their right hand, awake on the morning of the resurrection in the same fatal mistake, crying Lord! Lord! open unto us, and he shall say, depart from me ye workers of iniquity, for I never knew you! Permit us therefore, with the most affectionate concern for your immortal souls, to urge your attention to the nature of that change, which takes place in conversion, and which the Holy Spirit describes as remarkably decisive. It is called a new birth, a new creation - we are created anew in Christ Jesus. If any man be in Christ he is a new creature, old things are passed away, and behold all things are become new. The Christian is said to have received a new heart, to have put off the old man with his deeds, and to have put on the new man; to have passed from death unto life. What language can so forcibly describe the character of that change, without which, we can have no personal piety, and are not Christians, but Heathens, dead in trespasses and sins!

      We would also remind you, dear Brethren, that real conversion commences in repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There are many ways to hell, but only one to Heaven, and that is by repentance and faith. These were the grand theme of the Apostles' ministry, which they urged on all without exception, as indispensibly necessary to salvation. He that believeth on the Son of God hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.

      The circumstances of conversion, as well as the subsequent experience of believers, may widely differ, but the essential features of the change are substantially the same in all. There may be a constitutional colouring of our religious thoughts, and circumstances, or education, may modify the expression of our sentiments; but the views entertained, and the effects produced, will harmonize in every renewed mind. Sin will appear exceeding sinful, and Christ become increasingly precious.

      It is essential to salvation that every one should realize the evil of sin, for no one can have repented of his transgression, who has not been convicted of its guilt; and where this conviction is experienced, a Godly sorrow will accompany it, with a holy determination to forsake all iniquity. This feeling is well expressed in the language of Job: - Behold I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay my hand upon my mouth; once have 1 spoken, yea twice; but I will proceed no further. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eyes have seen thee, and I abhor myself in dust and ashes.

      We have another striking specimen of this feeling in the case of David, recorded in the 51st Psalm. The Royal Psalmist had greatly offended against society, and most grievously sinned against his brave and disinterested servant, Uriah. Yet such was the impression of his guilt, as committed against a Holy God, such were his views of its enormity in His sight, that he exclaims in the bitterness of his soul, against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight. And therefore he prays, create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

      We farther entreat you, dear Brethren, ever to remember, that personal religion, both in its commencement and progress, is alike the work of God, by the agency of his spirit, and his word. It is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit saith the Lord. We are not born Christians, but made so, and he that makes us so, is God. If we are born again, it is not of corruptible seed, but of an incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth for ever. Whatever instruments or means may be employed to impress and awaken the mind, God is the employer. If we are converted, whether by the preaching of the Gospel, the reading of the Scriptures, the exhortation of friends, or the dispensations of Providence, all is of God; and, according to his previous arrangement, go back as far as we will, God is there. By grace we are saved, and that according to the good pleasure of His will, who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself. Piety is not a native ingredient in our characters, neither can it be assumed at pleasure, as some vainly imagine. If we are born again, we are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. We are God’s workmanship, created anew in Christ Jesus.

      In the manner of his working, he shews that his ways: are not our ways, nor his thoughts our thoughts. He acts, as a Sovereign, uninfluenced by any human excellency whatever, being gracious to whom he will be gracious; and shewing mercy on whom he will shew mercy. He worketh after the counsel of his own will; he leadeth the blind by a way they know not, and giveth no account of his matters. Sometimes he draws by the cords of love, and the bands of man : The still small voice of his love is heard in the soul, filling it, with peace, obedience, and joy; as in the case of the Ethiopian Eunuch, who had no sooner been taught of God, than he cheerfully obeyed his commands, and went on his way rejoicing. In the same gentle manner did the Lord prepare the heart of Lydia, to attend to the things which Paul taught. In others, the thunders of the law are heard to reverberate through every apartment of the soul, creating terror and dismay; as in those who were pricked to the heart under the preaching of Peter - in the alarmed and terrified jailor at Phillippi, and the trembling Saul, on his way to Damascus. But it is not to the mode of Divine operation we wish particularly to direct your thoughts, but to its design. and tendency. As conversion is the work of God, and wrought by the Spirit of God, so it is accompanied by the fruits of the Spirit. If we are called from darkness to light, it is that we should be holy and without blame. Sanctification, or holiness, is an unavoidable result of conversion, and there can be no personal Religion without it. God is holy, and every thing he does must be holy; the operation of God upon our minds. must of necessity be, to make us like him - to re-impress the Divine image on our hearts, into which Religion enters, as a renewing principle; and as a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, so the work of the spirit of God cannot fail to sanctify our souls. Be not deceived, God is not mocked - where there is no love of holiness, there is no evidence of piety. Christians are a chosen race, separated from the world, and dedicated to God as a distinguished people, a royal Priesthood, a holy nation, a kind of first fruit of His creatures; and thus they present themselves as living sacrifices unto God.

      Believers hear the voice of Christ and follow him: And not

only are their ears opened, but their minds are divinely enlightened to perceive His glory. They feel an attractive power in a crucified Saviour, drawing them unto himself producing a willing surrender to his authority, and a universal obedience to his commands. Christ is revealed in them, as well to them, and what to the Jews was a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness, is to them, the power of God and the wisdom of God; and without this inward perception of Christ, we know him not, to any saving purpose. If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. - Now, no one can love an unknown Saviour, and no one can know Christ, but as he is revealed by the Spirit of God. The Apostle Paul speaks of God's revealing his Son in him, and this must be the experience of every Christian. God requires that we should love him supremely, and to do this, we must have scriptural perceptions of his character, and a right sense of his Divine excellencies, or we shall not perceive the fitness and justice of his requirements. But this honour have all his Saints. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, shineth into their hearts, to give them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Of Zion, it is said, all thy children shall be taught of the Lord - none shall be left without instruction. There can be no question, that in the household of Faith, as well as in the human family, there will be different degrees of intellectual capacity, and consequent gradations in the learner's progress. Not only will there be the babe in Christ, the young man, and the father, in regard to the date of their spiritual birth, but also in reference to their spiritual attainments. Some, by reason of use, have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil - others use milk, and are unskilful [sic] in the word of righteousness. Some enter into the higher and nobler mysteries of piety, while others content themselves with first principles; yet all are divinely instructed. Many think themselves something when they are nothing, and, imagining themselves wise, they become fools. Their light and knowledge puffeth up, and renders it obviously manifest whence their illumination is obtained, it is not from above, but beneath. Theirs is not the wisdom that cometh from God, which is first pure, then peaceable.

Suffer us then, dear Brethren, affectionately to inquire what is the state of your hearts? Are you diligent in becoming wise unto salvation? Are you, with heartfelt conviction of the truth of God's word, seeking to be guided thereby - to have it dwelling in you richly in all spiritual wisdom, that you may be sanctified by the truth, and attain to the full assurance of the understanding of Christ? Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord; for his secret is with them that fear Him, and he will show them his covenant. But what can it avail you to sustain a name in a Christian Church, and to attend on public ordinances, if personal religion be disregarded? It has been remarked, that among the Heathen, when the entrails of a victim were examined to ascertain the good or ill success of an application to their deities, nothing was considered a more fatal omen than the want of a heart. However full of absurdity and delusion this may have been, it is certain that nothing but an engagedness of heart, in our approaches to God, can be acceptable to him, or profitable to ourselves. God requires the heart, and will be satisfied with nothing less.

      We earnestly caution you, therefore, against substituting anything in the place of personal piety. Valuable as moral virtue is to society, and to its possessor, it can afford no evidence of a title to Heaven, unless it springs from faith in Christ; and can avail you nothing in procuring salvation. You may be moral, without being pious, but you cannot be pious, without being moral. True faith in Christ can no more fail to produce good works, than a good tree can fail to bring forth good fruit.

      Do not depend on imaginary voices, and transient impressions on the mind; nor in the mere adoption of forms and creeds, however scriptural in themselves. Conversion is not the being “bowed down, and brought through,” as some term it; nor does it consist in “a work,” so called, composed of dreams and visions, differing indeed in different places; but too often, when coming from any particular district, like pieces of merchandize sent out from the same manufactory, bear such a striking similarity of character, as to evince their origin by the sameness of their description, and render their credibility extremely suspicious.

      Important as we deem the Scriptural ordinance of believer's

Baptism, we would solemnly warn every one against the fatal delusion of supposing themselves religious, because they have been baptized. Nothing can be a greater absurdity than to imagine, that the administration of that ordinance can benefit the recipient, unless preceded by a change of heart, and accompanied with faith in Christ.

      Depend not exclusively on the public means of grace. - These should be highly valued, but not relied on for salvation. Ministers, called and sent of God, are worthy of honour; they are of Divine appointment, and, as instruments. in promoting personal piety, are valuable, but what can they do without God? If you look to them, or the word and ordinances merely, without regard to Divine influence, you. will be disappointed. You may go to the house of God, and return empty as you go, your minds must be unfruitful. Paul may plant and Appollos water, but the excellency of the power is of God.

      We trust therefore, dear brethren, while you attend diligently on the appointed means, you will look beyond them to the grace that is treasured up in Christ Jesus, and earnestly seek the influence of the holy spirit, without whom you can do nothing. However much of profession you may assume, and however excellent its order; unaccompanied by the life-giving influences of the spirit - it will be only a lifeless mass - the form of godliness without the power - “A dead image of a living thing.” See then that your practical compliance with outward ordinances, spring from an inward principle of love to God, and not from slavish fear, or mere necessity. Seek the wisdom that cometh from above, that you may be enabled to serve God acceptably, who is a Spirit, and will be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Let your eyes be up unto the Lord, and let your souls wait daily upon him, that you may receive his orders and obey his directions, lest it be said of you - “They are a people of no understanding, therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will shew them no favour.” Have respect unto his testimonies, and hearken to his commandments, then shall your peace be as a river, and your righteousness as the waves of the sea.

      In calling your attention, dear brethren, to the importance of personal godliness, we have set before you the decisive

character of that change in which all true piety commences - referred you to the agency by which it is effected; and spoken of its design and tendency, to sanctify and enlighten the mind. We have endeavoured to do this in the simplest manner, being much less concerned about the style of our address, than the object sought—even your sanctification: We have made much use of Scripture language, thinking it well to employ the words which the Holy Spirit teacheth; and in all which, we have endeavoured to impress the utter uselessness of all profession without a change of heart. Destitute of this, you can have no real happiness here, or title to Heaven hereafter.

      We may urge the necessity of this change from the very constitution of our nature while in a state of unregeneracy. As a sinner, man is alienated from God; far off by wicked works - sold in the servitude of sin - the slave of corruption and lusts. Heaven is a prepared, a holy place, for a holy people, into which nothing that defileth can enter. The holiness, the occupations, the society, and employments of Heaven, are all opposed to the natural disposition of man. The occupation and the enjoyments of Heaven, must consist in the obedience, the worship, and the praise of Jehovah. The Society of Heaven are God, the Saviour, Angels, and the spirits of the just made perfect. Now, were it possible for an unconverted person to mingle with these, Heaven would be profaned - its very songs would be hushed; at the presence of such an one the Angels, those holy beings that never sinned, would shrink, and flee away. The light of God's countenance would be withdrawn, and the sinner left to wander in darkness, and Heaven itself would become a hell to him! There can in no wise enter into the new Jerusalem any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie; but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life.

      We might further urge its necessity from the plain declarations of Scripture. Hear the Saviour himself - Verily verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. Except ye believe, he shall all likewise

perish; for the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men; and he will render tribulation and anguish upon every soul that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile, because there is no respect of persons with God.

      Allow us, therefore, dear brethren, again earnestly to press upon you the enquiry, what is your real condition in the sight of God? Are you the subjects of vital godliness? Do you live in the Lord? Has God taken away the heart of stone, and given you a heart of flesh? Do you delight in secret prayer, and communion with God? Is Christ precious? If not, you are still under the curse of God. For, if any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. We urge your attention to this, because it decides the question whether you are still the slaves of sin and Satan, or the sons and daughters of the living God. Whether you are still wanderers in the wilderness of this world, or entitled to the privileges of the household of faith.

      In conclusion, dear brethren, we would affectionately urge you to be much in prayer, that truth may prevail, till God's will be done on earth as it is done in Heaven; that nothing in doctrine or discipline, contrary to the purity and simplicity of the Gospel, may be allowed; that all may love with a pure heart fervently, and that Jehovah may pour out his spirit largely upon the Churches, and work in us all that which is well pleasing in his sight.

      And lastly, we would say, Brethren, pray for us, that we may be enlightened, humble, persevering Ministers of the Truth, never sacrificing to our own net, or burning incense to our own drag, but that giving all glory to God, and depending on his aid, we may come forth to you from time to time in the Spirit of our Master, communicating to you what we have felt, and handled, and tasted, of the word of God. And now, may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds, through Christ Jesus, to whom be glory for ever - Amen.


[From The Minutes of Transactions at the Annual Meeting of the Jamaica Baptist Association, 1836, pp. 3-12. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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