CIRCULAR LETTER, 1847
By Bro. H. LincolnThe Philadelphia Baptist Association, to the Churches of which it is composed.
DEAR BRETHREN: - Permit us, in view of the languishing condition of Zion within our borders, to address you on THE IMPORTANCE OF FAITH As AN ELEMENT of A HIGHER CHRISTIAN LIFE.The records of the past furnish melancholy evidence that the Church has ever fallen far behind the ideal of the Gospel. At the present day, the boundaries between the Church and the world are not always clearly defined; the character of the Christian and the worldling are often strangely blended; and other organizations, pronouncing the Church a failure, are struggling with eager rivalry to compass some of those great objects for which the Church was instituted. Does it not become us, instead of seeking like the Romish Church to proscribe and crush whatever germs of good are springing up beyond our own limits, to re-examine our ground, and see if we have not overlooked and neglected some cardinal feature of our holy religion?
Christianity claims to have been devised by infinite wisdom as an adequate remedy for human sin. It is endowed with a twofold power; objectively, to remove the burden of guilt; subjectively, to eradicate the germs of sin within the heart. Faith is the established agency, or condition by which these invaluable blessings may be procured by man. The just shall live by faith. Hitherto the attention of the Church has been too exclusively directed to the power of these two great objects. Justification by faith was the battle-cry of the Reformation, and its practical power renovated the Christian world. But this, coupled with that other Precious doctrine, the final perseverance of the saints, have too often thrown into the shade the sacred aim of Christianity, viz - the eradicating of sin by the power of faith. But the great object of all religion must ever be to perfect the soul in holiness, and restore it to the Divine likeness, and if Christianity were defective here, its claim to sole supremacy would be wholly forfeited.
But in the Gospel, great efficacy in this respect is attributed to faith. It can accomplish all that the Christian needs for constant growth in grace. It will purify the heart, and sanctify it, and give access unto the Father, and bring righteousness into the soul, and make it the dwelling place of Christ. It will also overcome
the world. Nothing is needed for the highest Christian life, but an all-embracing faith, for the atonement of Christ has fully provided for all the necessities of man. As it needs only faith in the fullness of his redemption to draw the shades of oblivion over the sins of the past life; so it needs only faith in the abiding influences of the Holy Spirit, to secure a rich supply of spiritual power to control the heart. The words of the Saviour “According to your faith be it unto you,” are pregnant with meaning in every application. As a recent writer has said with great force, “if faith be imperfect in degree, it will of course be followed by imperfect issues; it will make a heart imperfect as itself. But if it be strong, if it be assured, it will give a strong, an assured heart. If it be Abraham's faith, it will give Abraham's heart. If it be Paul's faith, it will give Paul's heart. If it be faith which Christ had, a faith which Satan's arts could not shake, and man’s hostility could not perplex, and even the hiding of his Father's face could not discourage, we cannot hesitate to say with reverential gratitude, that it will give Christ's consecrated heart.”*
The Apostle Paul tells us of a long line of Christian worthies who “through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, out of weakness were made strong.” Our fathers used to delight in the strong doctrine of the perfect assurance of faith, and instances were not unfrequent of its sanctifying energy upon the life. The Moravian Brethren in their early purity were accustomed to exact the assurance from every professed convert, and the Christian character was esteemed too immature for discipleship till it was attained.
Brethren, we all need to pray fervently, Lord, increase our faith. We need an all-pervading conviction of the importance of eternal things, of the continual presence of the Holy Ghost, of his power to abide in our hearts, even as in the heart of Jesus. Let us not be satisfied with an intellectual belief of the doctrines of the Gospel, for the doctrines are important only as means of holiness. Let us not be contented with the faith that justifies, but covet earnestly the faith that sanctifies. Let us never rest till we attain that perfect faith which overcomes the world, which rests with unfaltering confidence on the promises of Jesus, and draws from him hourly all the grace necessary for the vicissitudes of life. Then shall we no longer cry “my leanness! my leanness!” but “in the name of our God shall we set up our banners.” Then will the Church no longer “bow her head as a bullrush,” but the “righteousness thereof shall go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.”
* Upham's Life of Faith.
[From The Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1847, pp 31-32. From a University of Chicago digital internet copy. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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