The Minutes state: "The following Circular Letter was read by Elder G. W. Inman, and adopted:"
Bethel Baptist Association (KY)
To the Churches of Bethel Association:
DEAR BRETHREN: We have just passed tbrough a most fearful Revolution, in which the souls of men have been severely tried; and the Divine preservation of the believer's faith sufficiently manifested. And now, that the raging storm, and dark cloud of war have passed away, and the quiet stars of peace have reappeared in the firmament - the auspices of that beneficent Providence which is ever exercised towards all those that love the appearing of the Saviour - we are called upon to enter with renewed energies, the great work of human redemption.
In view of the exigencies of the labors and sacrifices devolving upon us, we can suggest no theme that would perhaps be more inspiring to your hearts, than The riches of grace manifest in the preservation of the believer's faith. It is not enough for the Spirit to change our condition, and leave us in that state; for, without diligence we would be in perpetual bondage to sin. Grace does not stop with a mere change of condition, but effects a change of character which is essential to fit us for the enjoyments of heaven.
1. The Covenant of Grace made with believers, by writing the law in their hearts secures the preservation of their faith - "I will put my law into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people." "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins, and their iniquities will I remember no more." It is true that the Israelites, were once accounted the people of God; and the same departure and rejection of believers in Christ might happen, if they were under the same covenant. It was precisely on this ground that God found fault with the old covenant, that it did not secure his people from disobedience and rejection: "Because they continued not in my covenant and I regarded them not." God abolished the old covenant because it did not put the law in his people's hearts, and thereby secure them from rejection; and made a new covenant founded on better promises: "I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me." It is evident that this view was entertained by Paul, when he wrote to the Philippians: Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." "Believers are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation."
Why did God find fault with the old covenant, if the new does not secure the believer from apostasy? Does he emphatically say, "If that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second?" Under the covenant of grace the believers are said to be in possession of everlasting life: "He that believeth, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life." If grace does not preserve believers' faith, so that they are rescued from sin, they must come again into condemnation - which the words of the Saviour declare to be impossible. If those who have passed from death unto life, may return to death again, their present life will not be everlasting, and the assurance that - "Neither shall he come into condemnation" is groundless.
2. That which is produced in regeneration, is immortal. The Holy Scriptures most clearly teach that "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for, his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." "Being born of the incorruptible." "He that believeth, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life." And again: "We know that whosoever is born of God, sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God, keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not." "For whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." This divine principle produced in regeneration, does not propose to sanctify the old man - the flesh. On the other hand, it proceeds upon the fact that the thing is impossible. It does not put new wine into old bottles, or sew new cloth into an old and worn-out garment. It repudiates the old nature, and furnishes a new. Regeneration is called the new birth - it, therefore, cannot be an improvement upon old nature. It is a change of the whole man, of his views, principles, inclinations, and pursuits. It is the life of God formed in the soul, which is the " hope of glory." - "Born of God," - "born of the Spirit." This new birth introduces the believer into a state of "newness of life." "Old things have passed away, and behold all things are become new."
The Apostle Paul clearly develops the idea of the immortality of the principle produced in regeneration, which must, through all time, preserve the believer's faith, in presenting the contrast between the Spiritual and carnal mind; the latter is said "not to be subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." It would be fruitless to attempt an improvement upon the carnal nature, which cannot be subject to the law of God. Hence the Apostle repudiates the flesh - "If then, if I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwellleth no good thing." The Apostle here clearly shows the difference between his flesh and his Spiritual nature, i.e., the principle produced in him by regeneration, which cannot be affected by the actions of the flesh. "So then, I myself with the mind serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin." The end of the flesh is the grave, but the spirit is life. In the resurrection the body will be regenerated - "it will be raised a Spiritual body." Thus we see, that the Grace of God preserves the believer's faith, by putting away the flesh until it shall attain the glorious resurrection of life.
3. The Bible clearly teaches, that final apostasy, when it does occur, is accounted for on the ground that there was an absence of true religion. "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." And so, the stony ground hearers "in time of temptation, fell away," because the seed had not much depth of earth. There may be a form of godliness where true religion does not exist. The Saviour informs us, that many will say to him in that day, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?" These persons were rejected not because their plea was false. Their profession, prophesying, and working of miracles in his name are not denied; but the ground of their rejection is stated in these words: "And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity." If any of these had ever been converted he could not have said, "I never knew you." There is a passage in which many have found difficulty: "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, and having fallen away, to renew them again unto repentance." I find nothing in any one of the terms used in the text which necessarily implies regeneration; that many of the Jews, to whom this epistle was addressed, had been enlightened, is evident from the plain teaching of the Scriptures: They had "received the knowledge of the truth," as the Apostle expresses himself in another part ef this epistle; or, as Peter says, they had "known the way of righteousness." In this manner the unbelieving Jews were enlightened, and for this reason their sin was highly aggravated: "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin." "If ye were blind, ye should have no sin; but now ye say, we see; therefore your sin remaineth." They evidently had tasted of the heavenly gift; if we understand by it, Jesus Christ: "For they drank of that Spiritual Rock that followed them; and that Rock was Christ." They had been made partakers of the Holy Ghost, in as much as they had witnessed the fulfilling of the prophesy of Joel, as taught in the second chapter of Acts: And so were those in primitive times, who were endowed with miraculous powers, which were given to them by the Spirit. But that such persons were not all true believers, is evident from the words of our Lord to some of them: "Then will I profess unto them, I never knew you." He never acknowledged them as genuine disciples. They may have tasted the good word of God, the dotrines and promises of the Gospel, so had the hearers in the parable of the sower, and concerning whom it is plain that they never were possessed of saving faith, for they had no root in themselves. They may have tasted of the powers of the world to come, - they may have been deeply impressed concerning heaven and hell - may have felt some desire to reach one and escape the other, and yet not have been born again.
That unregenerated persons are meant, I infer (1) from the seventh and eighth verses - and (2) from the ninth. In these verses it is clearly shown that the Jews had received all the light, opportunities, and means of grace necessary to their salvation. The words of the Lord are - "What could have been done more to my vineyard that, I have not done in it?" And yet some of them remained incorrigible and unfruitful; and in view of their circumstances, it was impossible to renew them again unto repentance. But in the ninth verse, the Apostle shows the difference between the fruitful and barren soil; believers not only taste of the Word of God, but drink it in; and, the good soil bringeth forth fruit answerable to the cost laid out, for the honor of Christ. These are "better things" than ever any hypocrite or apostate enjoyed - "things that accompany salvation though we thus speak."
The Scriptures teach us that the true Christian does not so fall away that it is impossible for him to be renewed again unto repentance. The confessions of men eminent for piety, prove that they are not free from sin. We have two remarkable examples in Scripture. The first is David, who seduced the wife of his neighbor, and then devised the murder of her husband. The second is Peter, who denied his Lord with oaths and imprecations, in themselves profane, and which changed his false affirmation into perjury. But David was renewed to repentance, and the record of his penitential acknowledgement has been transmitted to us in the 51st Psalm. A look of Jesus melted Peter's heart, and he went out, and wept bitterly. But the apostates, who are described in the passage which we have been considering, are given over to hardness of heart: "It is impossible to renew them again to repentance."
4. The warnings which the Scriptures give, are designed for true Christians. They constitute an important means of the preservation of the believer's faith. As the rock in the mariner's chart guards him from being dashed to pieces, so these warnings preserve the Spiritual mariner from destruction. The doctrine of the gracious preservation of the believer's faith through all the trials and temptations of life, does not, as is supposed by some, tend to produce apathy among professors; but on the contrary, nothing can be more stirring to the Christian's heart, than the fact that the preservation of his faith is to him the fruit of regeneration. ==========
[From Bethel Baptist Association Minutes, 1865, pp. 13-17. The document was provided by Philip duBarry, Addyston, OH. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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