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The Philadelphia Baptist Association
Circular Letter, 1867
The Duty of Self-Examination
By James E. Wilson
      The Philadelphia Baptist Association, to the Churches of which it is composed:

      We live in times which test christian character. The days foretold by the Saviour when because of the abounding of iniquity, the love of many should wax cold, seem to have come; a growing tendency is manifested to exercise the mind upon questions of mere formalism, and we find many who bear the Christian name giving much of their attention to forms and rituals, to the apparent neglect of vital Godliness and the increase of Spiritual religion.

      Permit us therefor in this circular, to put you in remembrance of the teachings of the Holy Spirit upon this matter as presented to us in the language of the Apostle Paul, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His" - an utterance the more striking because in such entire harmony with the words of the Saviour, “Not every one that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in Heaven.” The possibility of mistaking the form for the reality suggested by these passages should arouse every professing Christian to the work of serious “Self-examination,” lest like the foolish virgins he be found wanting in that day.

      The criterion here established, by which to judge of our true condition, is the possession of the Spirit of Christ, that Divine controlling influence whose work it is to guide the believer in the ways of truth. The Spirit which the Apostle urges as so necessary in this matter, must not be confounded with the temper and disposition of Christ referred to in another place, as “the mind which was also in Christ Jesus.” This is rather a consequence of the Spirit's influence - and is only enjoyed where that influence is felt.

      The meaning of the apostle is evidently - that Holy and Eternal Spirit which Christ promised should be given to His disciples to dwell in their hearts - not merely to abide passively there; but as an active principle ruling and reigning to manifest its presence by certain distinct operations and effects. That we may know whether we possess this vital principle, let us consider some of its operations. “And when He is come,” said the Saviour, “He will reprove the world of sin.” To convince men of sin therefore, is His first work, and in this respect all men may be said to be under His influence, for the man scarcely lives who has not been made to feel his sinfulness. And yet men have been convinced of sin, and distressed greatly in view of the consequences of sin, who have never

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really and truly felt their need of a Saviour, and hence the further and saving operation of this Spirit is to show the soul its need of Christ - revealing Christ as the great atonement for sin - the sin-bearer - the Saviour - adapted to all its wants and awakening an unconquerable desire to be interested in Him, a desire which will not be satisfied until Christ be found in the soul “the hope of glory.”

      Nothing short of this will meet its promptings - no ceremonies, nor forms, nor even duties. It points to the cross, fixes the eye of the sinner on the cross and brings peace and comfort to the soul, only through the cross. Every one truly led by it knows something of the efficacy and life-giving power of that blood which is

“Drawn from Immanuel's veins. ''

      And now, accepting Christ as the model, to which the saved one is to be conformed by words and ordinances, by Providence, and by its own internal operations, the Spirit stamps the Divine likeness upon the soul, beginning on earth the work to be consummated in heaven, in which the believer by looking upon Jesus, who, as a mirror, represents the glory of God, is “changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the spirit of the Lord.”

      The Spirit dwelling in him as an incorruptible seed, there is a growing up into Christ, and a bearing fruit to the glory of God. The life expands the heart and if the Spirit reign, its effects will be seen in the life, and we shall live not unto ourselves, but unto Him who died for us and rose again.

      Unless, therefore, we have been taught our need of Christ as a Saviour, have been led to the cross for salvation, are in some degree conformed to the image of Christ, and while daily seeking more and more of this conformity, are consecrated to the service of God, we are destitute of this spirit, and lacking this, have no claim to be considered Christ's.

      The Spirit of Christ in a believer, is a spirit of life. Quickened from a death in sin, he now lives - raised from a grave of dead works he enjoys a new life, a life of faith in the son of God, and this new life operating through the spirit of love - love to God - love to man, he is now anxiously concerned for the glory of God and the salvation of men. To accomplish these, moved by this principle of life and love, to imitate as far as possible Him who gave his life a ransom for the many, he is now prepared to say,

“All that I have and all I am
Are thine and thine alone.”

      No sacrifice is now too great. He is ready to give anything to Christ, to part with anything for Christ. His money, his talents, his influence, his time, his all are laid upon the altar of consecration, while constrained by the love of Christ he sings, -

“What is my being but for thee,
Its sure support, its noblest end,-
'Tis my delight thy face to see,
And serve the cause of such a friend.”

      As a powerful principle therefore, the Spirit works in the heart of every real Christian, subduing his iniquities, helping his infirmities, and thus influencing and controlling him - making him meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.

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Possessing it, we are living Christians. The life within us manifests itself, not merely in profession, but in works of love, benevolence and Christian zeal, and if we are not thus influenced, whatever else we may have or do, we have no right to be called by His name.

      It is a truth, repeatedly presented in Scriptures, that Christ will not own all who lay claim to him. His own words, full of solemn meaning are, “Many will say unto me 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? and then will I profess unto them, I never knew you.”

      Let us remember that it is not wonderful works that prove us His, but holy works.

      The ostentatious offering, the munificence of which may cause the world to applaud and pour its commendations as grateful incense upon the head of the giver; the noisy earnestness of the impulsive man to-day, all carelessness tomorrow, alive as with fire from heaven, are valueless, as establishing a claim to be considered Christ's, compared with the widow's mite, given secretly from her scanty earnings, prompted by love to Christ, or the patient continuance of the poor, obscure Christian laborer as he seeks day by day to show forth the praises of his Redeemer.

      Carefulness in this matter is therefore necessary. It is the Christian's privilege to be confident in his Saviour. Oh how blessed to rely wholly upon Jesus and what comfort does it afford the soul to know that He is able to keep what has been committed to Him.

      So, confidence in God, is both a duty and a privilege. To trust him under all circumstances, assured that “all things work together for good to those who love Him,” while it honors God, brings the soul joy and gladness.

      But confidence in the security and safety of one's own state and condition, is not always safe. It is to be feared that many who bear the Christian name are mistaken just here. They take it for granted that they are Christians, while they give no evidence that they possess the spirit of Christ. They say peace, when God has never spoken peace. Fearful state not that we should always be in doubt or ever questioning our state, singing in plaintive strains,

“'Tis a point I long to know -
Oft it causes anxious thought -
Do I love the Lord, or no?
Am I His, or am I not?”

      But by a thorough investigation into the foundation of our hope and the evidences of our faith, we should seek to be sure that Christ is our trust, our Saviour, our all.

      Let but the Holy Spirit possess our hearts and influence there as a spirit of life, love and power, of truth, meekness, and righteousness, and all cause for anxiety will be removed; for it is written: “As many as are led by the Spirit of God they are the sons of God.” How desirable then that discarding forms and ceremonies, we seek for this Divine presence, ever remembering that “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His.” Oh! that in “that day” each member of this Association, with a great multitude, that no man can number, may be found in Christ, not having our own righteousness, which is of the law of forms and ceremonies, but that which is through the faith of Christ, even the righteousness, which is of God by faith.
JAMES COOPER, Moderator,


[From The Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1867, pp. 29-31; via U. of Chicago digital document. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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