Baptist History Homepage

The Philadelphia Baptist Association
Circular Letter, 1866
The Training of Converts
By W. W. H. Marsh
      The Philadelphia Baptist Association, to the Churches of which it is composed:

      During the past Associational year many have been added to our churches, not only within the bounds of our own body, but throughout the denomination. As a prominent denominational organ” has observed, “so large are the numbers in this one ingathering that the future of our churches, and of the influence of our churches, in the evangelization of the world, is to be greatly modified by the character as Christians and as Baptists they shall form and maintain.” This revival has largely increased our numerical strength, and has supplied us with much additional material, by the prompt and judicious employment and thorough education of which we may increase our moral power, extend our influence, strengthen our ranks, and thus prepare the way for greater conquests and more enlarged prosperity in the future. The accessions we have received embrace persons of nearly all ages, from every grade of society, and include a great variety of talent; but if we desire to gather all the fruit, if we want to reap for Christ and for the churches the full harvest of this revival, we must give our immediate attention and well-directed labors to the development, the careful and thorough cultivation, and the intelligent employment of all the elements of power and usefulness it has brought within our reach, and made subject to our moulding and educating agencies. Allow us, then, dear brethren, to address you on The Training of Converts.

      It is mainly to our failure to give timely and appropriate instruction to the accessions we have received during seasons of revival that we may trace the fact of which we hear so much complaint, the unemployed resources and underdevloped talent found in our membership. Nearly every year we hear reports of “extensive revivals” and “large ingatherings'' at different points, and at frequent periods we have had general awakenings,” extending to all the churches.* By these our numerical strength has been greatly increased, but we have not been gratified by a corresponding increase in our effective available working force, - in our moral power, in the vigor of our church life, and the extent of our Christian activity. The yield of the harvest has not been what we anticipated when we looked joyfully upon the luxuriance of the spring growth. Every means and all agencies, regarded as desirable for the work of the ministry, for the perfecting of the saints, and for the edifying of the body of Christ,” has been added; but much of the strength thus acquired lies dormant, these energies are not now exerting the potent influence
*Examiner and Chronicle.”

p. 31
they might in aiding the cause of Christ, - they are not vitalized by a genuine Christian life, and thus “made mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” The want felt by our churches to-day is not so much a deficiency of any of the appliances or agencies needed to carry forward the blessed work of the world's redemption from the curse of sin, as that they do not employ what they have—that they possess so many latent energies which, if disciplined and brought into active service, intelligently directed, would “make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.”

      We do not say, brethren, that we have exhibited an over-zealous desire to bring souls to Christ, that we have done or are doing wrong by the earnest employment of every divinely authorized means of multiplying our membership. We would rejoice in a more prevalent missionary spirit and greater efforts to “win souls,” but have not our churches and their pastors in many instances forgotten that they have another mission beside this; that on them is placed the responsibility of training such as God may from time to time add to us; that every convert needs to be “taught the way of the Lord more perfectly,” that he ought to be instructed in righteousness and trained for active service as we drill our volunteers for military duty, and that this instruction and training must and can only come from the churches and their ministry. Here is, where we have failed - here is where we are failing - and it is for this cause that so many of our members who, by “the time they ought to be teachers, have need that some one teach them which be the first principles of the oracles of God, and are become such as have need of milk and not of strong meat.” We have received our members rather as graduates in the knowledge of all the principles that underlie, and duties arising from, the new “life in Christ,’’ than as pupils, knowing only, and in many instances exceedingly superficially, the rudimental principles of religion, and needing immediate and careful instruction in the way of life. We have been too much accustomed to regard them as ready to enter at once upon all the duties of their new vocation than as requiring tuition in the nature of those duties, and it is to this that we may attribute the fact that we have so few, comparatively, who are “ready for every good word and work.” Their early Christian nurture was neglected, and hence the lamentable deficiency in hearty consecration to Christ we witness in after years, when because of their maturer powers, they ought to be more efficient than ever before; but the time for their successful culture has passed. Their characters as Christians are fixed; they have determined their standard of piety, and if they are not illustrations of that higher life we believe attainable; if they are not “living epistles known and read of all men;'' if they do not fill the gospel measure of Christian obligation, we cannot hope, however faithfully and clearly we may endeavor to instruct them, that they will be very progressive pupils.

      We must, therefore, commence their training now. If we defer it they will in a little while be beyond our influence - their ardor will cool and indifference will succeed. It will be much more difficult to reach them, and the probabilities of failure altogether will be increased. They are now teachable - their hearts are tender, their minds are in readiness to receive instruction. They desire to be useful, they want work, and are not only willing and desirous to be set at work, but they crave instruction in order that they may work, under the direction of intelligence and with the certainty of success. Their hearts glow with love to Christ, and they inquire, “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?'" They hunger and thirst after religious knowledge - knowledge that they can make practical - knowledge that they can verify by experimental tests - but if we do not avail ourselves of the many advantages afforded by the inviting present, it will be too late when the glow of their espousing love shall have passed, and when the ardor following their conversion shall have cooled. Then indifference will have succeeded enthusiasm, then satisfaction with the formal will have supplanted longing for the spiritual, and the maintenance of a respectable

p. 32
Christian exterior - a frigid morality - will have followed their present longings after higher attainments in the divine life. There are now many in our churches who are “neither cold nor hot,” who show but little of the spirit of Jesus, and who do but little to convince the world that they are under the power of His life; who have wealth, talent, education, social influence, every means desirable for usefulness, who might be shining lights in the world and blessings to mankind; but, they are not, and we have not much hope that they can now be reached and influenced by any system of discipline or attempts to give them more thorough instruction respecting their duties as Christians, yet, in most instances, this same class of persons were, when they were brought into the church, easily reached; they had the spirit of disciples; they were in a condition to be moulded; they would have received instruction and profited by it; but either their training was entirely neglected or else it was not thorough, hence the result. A similar result will inevitably follow if we do not give that immediate attention to the Christian training of the thousands God has added to our churches during the past year. The present is the golden opportunity - if we fail now we can at best expect in the future to repair but partially the neglect of the present.

      These converts need training. In whatever aspect or relation of the new life we view them they need the most careful instruction. They need instruction in the doctrines of the gospel - the fundamental truths of Christianity. Of these they generally know but little. Their ideas of them are crude and undigested. They are not acquainted with them in their systematic form and relation. Their faith is rather assent to the proposition, Christianity is true, than an intelligent idea of the truths embodied in the gospel. Of these they are comparatively ignorant and must remain so, unless immediate and well directed efforts be made to give them carefully defined and distinct ideas of each fundamental doctrine of salvation and of the value and relation of each to the entire system. They require the most painstaking, and exact instruction respecting the nature of regeneration, of justification by faith, of indwelling sin, of consecration to Christ, of growth in grace, of the forgiveness of sin, and the relation of Christ's death to their forgiveness, pardon, justification, sanctification and eternal salvation. We cannot insist with too much emphasis upon their comprehending these. We cannot explain too carefully, or call their attention to them too frequently. Nor ought we to pause here. They, as they may be able to bear it, need instruction upon what we may term the higher and more difficult doctrines of the Word of God: as the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, the necessity of his presence and power to convert sinners and to vitalize the church; the certain efficacy of the Redeemer's death in the salvation of all for whom He died; our personal, eternal and unconditional election to eternal life in Christ Jesus; the doctrine of the Trinity; the divinity of the Son of God, and the Godhead of the Holy Spirit. All these doctrines, brethren, lie at the foundation of a correct Christian life. There can be no such thing as genuine Christian life without them, for all true religious life is evolved from a correct understanding of the doctrines of Christianity, and their power, because correctly understood, over the heart. There is at this time a growing indifference to doctrinal preaching. It is decried, and the demand is echoed from every quarter, give us more practical preaching. The precept must be the constant theme of discourse, but few are willing to listen to a presentation of the law that underlies the precept. They forget that the practical part of religion is only another phase of the doctrinal - only the doctrinal. . . . The consequence of the long continuance and too general prevalence of this, is that many members of our churches are to-day as ignorant of the doctrines of the word of God as Pharoah's lean kine were destitute of flesh.

      It is right indeed that we should insist with frequency, and earnestness upon the practical part of religion, that we should urge the convert to activity and

p. 33
stimulate him to devotedness; but if we would make him an efficient laborer in the Master's vineyard, we must give him the doctrinal food necessary, not only to sustain him while working, but to supply the nutriment requisite to feed and produce a development of his gifts, and graces, that will fit him for more enlarged usefulness. This doctrinal instruction on which we insist, is rendered the more necessary by the many, and multiform insidious and Seductive attempts, now so covertly made, to moderate the severity of Bible doctrines by the wide-spread and growing indifference of Christians to doctrinal correctness; by the semi-infidelity that pervades much of the literature of the day, as well as by the bold and daring assaults that are so persistently made not merely upon the doctrines of the Bible, but on the authenticity and credibility of almost every book of which it is composed. Never was there greater danger threatening “the faith once delivered to the saints’’ than at the present time, never did the inquiring young Christian mind so much demand guidance and confirmation as now, and never was Satan more insidious in his attempts, or did he possess more effective appliances for, undermining the foundations upon which the church rests than now. The evils exist, the danger threatens; the enemy, in many cases “clothed as an angel of light,” is at the door. We have but one safe course, only one effective means of counteraction, that is to instruct these converts, to indoctrinate the entire membership of our churches more thoroughly. We dare not with safety repose on our orthodoxy, or assume that these converts will be kept from doctrinal error, without any attention being given to their instruction. If we do, we shall have members without stability, “carried about by ever wind of doctrine,” uninstructed themselves, and hence unable to impart instruction to others.

      They need instruction in the Christian life. Upon this they have just entered, but of the laws by which it is regulated, they know but little. They are unacquainted with its varied experiences, and have not become familiarized with its conflicts, and struggles. They therefore need to know its principles, its motives, and habits. If they are allowed to remain in ignorance of these, then their Christian life will be dwarfed and unhealthy. If they are allowed to go wrong here, and now, they will be wrong always; but if we can now, give them clear ideas of the principles involved, they will in all probability be kept right, and have a vigorous and rapid development. If they are now taught that by regenerating grace they are not what they were, that “old things have passed away and all things have become new,” that they are “no more strangers, and foreigners, but fellow citizens of the saints, and of the household of God,” that they “are dead to the world, and that their lives are hid with Christ in God,” then their growth will be healthy, because, it will have its root in the nutricious soil of entire consecration to Christ, they will feel they “are bought with a price and must therefore glorify God in their bodies and spirits which are His.” If we can now persuade them that the new life pre-supposes a new and different character, both internal and external, that they have put off concerning their former conversation, the old shan, who is corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts; have been renewed in the spirit of their minds, and have put on the new man, who, after God is created in righteousness and true holiness; if we can now convince them that religion is a growth, the unfolding of a germinal principle implanted by regeneration, “having its fruit unto holiness, the end everlasting life,” that there is “first the blade, and then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear,” then we shall be much more certain of securing their “growth in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” If we now impress them with the radical distinction between “him who loveth and serveth God, and him who loveth and serveth him not,” that the former must not “be conformed to the world, but must be transformed by the renewing of his mind, that he may prove what is that good and acceptable, and perfect, will of God,” we shall take the most effective method of guarding them against the seductive influence of “the cares of the

p. 34
world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things.” They must be taught wherein consists the difference between the Christian, and all other men; that difference must be explained to them, and understood by them, or else the attainment of a high Christian life will not be possible, nor can their real strength as Christians ever be brought out and made available to the church. They must be made acquainted with all its principles, and have the various phases of its experience expounded. They must know what its difficulties, trials and peculiar temptations are, or they will not be prepared for them. They must be taught the difference between the impulse of passion, and the stability of principle, the uncertainty and unreliability of the former, and perfect safety of the latter - to build upon the latter, and not give themselves up to the uncertain guidance of the former. As they are now upon the threshold of their religious life, it is the time when we must inculcate right views of that life - when we must educate it so that they may “add to their faith virtue, and to their virtue knowledge, and to their knowledge temperance, and to their temperance patience, and to their patience godliness, and to their godliness brotherly kindness, and to their brotherly kindness charity; for, if these things be in them and abound, they shall be neither barren or unfruitful in the work of the Lord.”

      They need training in the methods of Christian work. These converts are enthusiastic ; they are ready, because willing, to engage in all kinds of Christian labor. They do not need exhortations to activity. They want employment, and many of them long for an opportunity to be useful in the church and a blessing to their fellow-men. They have talents that may be used, means and abilities that may be made of inestimable value to the cause of Christ. Every one of them has the qualification to do something, and many of them may do much, but while they have the means to do and the energy to impel, yet they, in a very great degree, are deficient in the intelligence necessary to direct. Many, who have been for years members of our churches, having ability and possessing some valuable qualifications, have “buried their talent in the earth,” or kept it “laid away in a napkin,” who, had they been sought out, their qualifications ascertained and an effort made to incite them to activity, might to-day be “shining lights,” pillars of our churches and blessings to mankind. We cannot afford, brethren, to allow any of the qualifications possessed by those added to us during the year, to remain unemployed; but unless we look after them and, ascertaining the ability of each, set him at work in the vineyard, our churches will receive but a small amount of real strength from the revival in which they have so generally shared. But we must do more than assign to each his appropriate work. In order to render each most effective - the working forces of our churches must be harmonized. As many a convert has never been of the least utility to the church, because never sought out and instructed where and how to work, so there are others who have, in the exhuberance of their zeal and overflowing of their first love, gone enthusiastically to work for Christ, who, instead of rendering any really valuable aid, have rather injured the cause they meant to benefit, because they were not taught how to work and did not labor in harmony with their co-workers. Their zeal which spent its force in comparatively useless efforts, might have been made the means of accomplishing much, had a wise head, an experienced heart and a steady hand, fully comprehending their qualifications for usefulness, looked out the right department for them to labor in, harmonized their labors with those of the entire body, and kindly instructed them in the most effective methods of Christian activity. Convinced that something must be done in order to develop the ability of our members, especially our young members, we have resorted to various plans, prominent among them, Young People's Associations. These have accomplished much, and may be made much more effective, but we shall never succeed in bringing out our entire working force, employing all for Christ and

p. 35
using our numerous and varied resources to the best advantage, until every church led by her pastor, who shall be assisted by competent advisers, shall take the general superintendence of this work, and ascertaining the capabilities of each convert, assign him his appropriate place, instruct him in his work and keep him in harmony with all his fellow-labors.

      They need instruction in their duties as church members. It is a painful fact that there are many connected with our churches who do not appear to comprehend their duties or to feel their responsibility as church members. They do not recognize their brotherly relation “to the household of faith;” they do not feel themselves bound to sustain their pastor in his work, “to obey those who have the rule over them in the Lord, and admonish them, and esteem them very highly, in love, for their work's sake.” They do not regard themselves as bound by vows the most solemn, and obligations the most inviolable, to comply with the provisions of the covenant to which they on being received gave their cheerful assent. They do not watch over their brethren, kindly “admonish one another” for their faults, give liberally of their “substance and of the first fruits of their increase for the cause of Christ,” sustain their pastor by their prayers and contribute cheerfully to his support, recognize and adequately respect him in his high office as a minister of the Lord Jesus, especially in his official relation to them as their spiritual overseer and guide. To whatever other cause or causes we may attribute this, no one will deny that it has arisen in a great measure from our neglect or unwarranted hesitancy to instruct persons on connecting themselves with our churches, in the special obligations assumed and peculiar duties growing out of their new and important relation. Some have assumed, perhaps, that the special obligations of any one becoming a member of the church, are now so generally know and so correctly understood that no instruction is necessary. But this is a mistake. Every one, on first connecting himself with the church, is comparatively ignorant of the nature of the duties the new relation upon which he has entered has brought with it. He knows, that as a matter of course, there are new duties, but he does not understand them, he requires to have them both explained and enforced, they must be clearly set forth and earnestly insisted upon, or else he will live in neglect of them, and the cause will suffer in consequence of his neglect. The converts we have received will follow in the steps of those they find in the churches; they will determine their course, if left to themselves, by the example in this respect that those who have preceded them may set, and if they are left without proper and timely instruction in this matter they will be like them, only they will recognize their duties with less distinctness. The complaint is common that our members do not understand their duties and have no just appreciation of what it required of them, but this cause of complaint can only be removed by every pastor giving faithful elucidations of their duties, urging those duties upon them by all justifiable means, and then every church sustaining the teachings of its pastor by the enforcement of a kind but firm discipline, requiring of all its members their prompt discharge. If this be not done, these thousands who have recently been admitted to membership must remain in comparative ignorance of what is required of them, or if not in “comparative ignorance,” they will be indifferent to their obligations and care nothing about their faithful performance. They must be taught that professing religion means much more than “belonging to church,” that it imposes certain obligations that must be inviolably kept, and certain duties that cannot be ignored without criminality.

      They need instruction in our denominational doctrines. Some of them no doubt examined the principles for which we contend, were satisfied they were true, and therefore they united with us from convictions of duty. They became Baptists because they could not be anything else without disregarding their convictions, but many were largely influenced by family connections and

p. 36
social affiliations; they gave those points on which we differ from our Christian brethren of other names, no special investigation, hence at best they have but slight convictions of their correctness. They assumed that they were correct, but did not consult “the law and the testimony,” in order to know for themselves and not depend merely upon the assertion of another. Hence many of them give but meagre and unsatisfactory reasons why they are Baptists and not Presbyterians, or Episcopalians, or Methodists. They know nothing of our denominational history and position, they do not understand the relation we sustain to the Pedo-baptist world; they are ignorant of the value of our distinctive principles, and of the nature and importance of our special mission, as Baptists, to restore the ordinances to their primitive place and purity, and to bring back the visible church of Christ to those principles upon which He originally founded it. It is, therefore, indispensable that they have our denominational position intelligently defined, in order that they may clearly understand and be able to defend it whenever and wherever assailed. Is it not to be feared that we are giving too little attention to denominational training? that we are in danger of losing, in some degree, our denominational distinctiveness, and that our members generally have but very indefinite conceptions of our position and distinctive doctrines? Already we are beginning to suffer from this cause, and as God has increased us by the addition of thousands, we must suffer to a much greater extent if now, when we may so easily indoctrinate them, we allow them to remain without thorough information and ample training in all things by which we are distinguished from our fellow Christians. Never was there greater demand for this than now ; never had we so much to gain by it as now, and certainly never before so much to forfeit as the penalty of our neglect. Our principles are conceded by our opponents; there is a growing conviction in their ranks of our conformity to the New Testament model and teachings; the tendency of thought among them is increasing in our favor; therefore for us to fail now is to neglect one of the grandest opportunities God in his providence has ever accorded to us. Our centuries of battling for the right, of struggle and persecution, of secular oppression, and ecclesiastical exclusion are now passed; an open door is before us, and if we now make intelligent and thorough Baptists of them we may, and certainly they will live to see more glorious victories, and rejoice in more extensive and decided conquests than our eyes have yet beheld ; but this will not be if we are remiss in our duty; on the contrary, there will be declension, and we shall forfeit what we have won, as the penalty of our faithlessness in not discharging the obligations of our special mission.

      It is our duty to instruct them. They naturally look to us for guidance. They expect us to be their examples in both word and doctrine. As their seniors in the Divine life, and their presumed superiors in the extent, diversity, and richness, of our Christian experience, acquaintance with the doctrines, and knowledge of the duties of religion, they will look to us for instruction and they have a right to demand it. Their tuition is in our hands. They will be to a very great extent what we, by the religious culture we place them under, endeavor to make them; God has delegated this momentous responsibility to us, and if we fail, and they, in consequence of our dereliction, are ignorant of Bible doctrines; of the nature of the Christian work; of their duties as church members, and of our denominational position, we will be held accountable for this ignorance, and its results. If their talents are undeveloped, if the means of usefulness they control, are not rendered tributary to Christ's Kingdom, if all their energies are not actively employed, and if they “bring no fruit to perfection,” upon us must devolve the responsibility. A parent can no more deny his obligation to train his “child in the way he should go,” than we can neglect or by any means evade our obligation to “feed” these “lambs of the flock” upon ‘‘the sincere milk of the Word that they may grow thereby.” It is to day the special work of all, - of pastors, deacons, Sabbath-school teachers,

p. 37
Christian parents, of all who were in the church when they united with it, to See that they are promptly, and properly instructed, that they may be strong in the Lord and “be able to give an answer to all who may ask the reason of the hope that is in them.”

      This duty is urged on us by many considerations. We need all the available strength of our churches. We want the immediate and vigorous employment of all our resources; we cannot afford to have any talent undeveloped or any means of usefulness unemployed; we want all. The work is great and the demand is pressing. We cannot therefore afford to have any man “standing idle in the market place;” we must have every man at work, all in the right spirit working in their appropriate places, and in harmony with the entire body. We look about us, and we see that death has been thinning our ranks; warm hearts formerly in line with us, rather leading us in our blessed work, have ceased to throb. They fell with the sweat drops of toil yet warm upon their foreheads. Others, who are yet with us, veterans in the Master's service, and the heroes of many a protracted struggle, are “only waiting” until they shall be summoned into “the joy of their Lord.” They must soon leave us; in a short time they will be all gone. The workers, the leaders, the burden-bearers, the men of warm hearts, and ardent toil, who now, as links, bind this generation to the one passing away, will all soon be gathered to “the general assembly, and church of the first born, whose names are written in heaven.” But while some of them have passed over into the “promised land,” and while many more are drawing near to the termination of their pilgrimage, we are rejoiced by the coming up of thousands in the prime and vigor of life, ‘‘called out of darkness, into marvellous light,” waiting to have the mantles of these departed and departing saints fall upon them, and grasping with strong hands the weapons o warfare they lay aside as they go up to receive “the crown of life,” are ready to fill the place rendered vacant by their demise, and to aid in carrying forward the blessed work in which these noble men of God toiled, and sacrificed, endured, and died. Let us then feed these lambs, give them nourishing food, sound advice, practical counsel, make their lives earnest and their faith strong, and in their ranks will be found scores to take the place of each veteran fallen and called to his reward.


[From The Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1866, pp. 30-37; via U. of Chicago digital documents. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More Pennsylvania Baptist Circulars
Baptist History Homepage