Written by Elder John C. Murphy
The Warwick Baptist Association, to the Churches of which she is composed; sends Christian salutation.
Permit us to address you, “on the increase of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.”
The terms chosen to express the title of this letter, convey the idea of the advancement of the cause of the Redeemer, by the accession of members to the churches of Christ; and by their growth in grace, as well as by their abounding in every good word and work.
It requires but little reflection, in order to perceive that every imaginable addition of individuals to a church, is not a real addition to the Kingdom of Christ. If persons disqualified by worldly mindedness, by heretical sentiment, by disorderly conduct contrary to the Scriptures, or, by a deservedly bad reputation, join a church, it is certain that they are so far from making any addition to the church of God, that they cannot in truth be considered as belonging to His visible kingdom at all. Unless truth and error can be identified, no man can so much as see the Kingdom of God, except he has a spiritual birth.
A candidate for baptism and consequent membership is so seldom not accepted, that it deserves in some instances, to be named, as a subject of cautionary advice. A true church is made up of real living believers, and are such antecedent to qualification for its membership. Without forgetting, that it is to your own Master you stand or fall, and without presuming to dictate any thing to you, we ask if there is always a sufficient anxiety felt for the honor of Jesus Christ, when an individual is proposed as a candidate for your fellowship. Fellowship involves a spiritual kinship, witnessed within the hearts of God’s people, and this fellowship is derived from the work of the Holy Spirit. In every case is there a particular attention paid to the doctrinal principles professed, to the feelings cherished, and to the evidence given, that genuine religion operates upon the heart as the most active principle of life; bringing forth the variety of its precious fruits, “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance?”
In our apprehension, in order to the prudent discharge of the behaviors devolving upon our churches, on the subject of receiving members, it is necessary that charity should be united with intelligence, and that a desire for the augmentation of our number should be always controlled by a desire, that none should be received but with Gospel doctrinal principles and feelings, hope and Gospel practice. Without its principles there can be no more Gospel fellowship, than there can be fellowship in the kingdom of nature, between a vegetable and an animated being; between a stone, to which sensibility and locomotion are impossible, and the eagle which soars to the sublimest height in the visible heavens. There can be no union between light and darkness. Upon the supposed profession of the principles of the Gospel, where there is no feeling, or love, which corresponds with those principles, the mind ought to be assured, that the Truth is held in unrighteousness.
The power of the Gospel has not been righteously admitted; it is not adequately felt if its influence continues suppressed by the strength of worldly habits. Of the system which we obey, we are the observers, the servants, whether it be that of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness. Between the man who is influenced in his feelings and conduct, by the mere principles of the world, and him whose mind is elevated and moved along in the high-way of life, as there is no identity of object, so there can be no common interest in which they can meet; - no fellowship in the Spirit.
Before any number of persons can have fellowship with each other, they must associate together, and this in the congregation of believers, as persons possessing true religion; the atmosphere of Heaven must surround them all, the very spiritual element, and the whole expansion of which is love.
In the admission of unsuitable persons to church membership, it is certain that nothing can be gained to the cause of religion, while much is undoubtedly lost. It is the dilapidation of the venerable walls of Zion, and the erection of a “worldly sanctuary” in their place. Hated substitution! May we never lend our efforts, nor yield our consent to its consummation! Do not be captious – Do not be hard to please. Let all that is easy and graceful, kind and generous be apparent in the service of the Lord, when you are called to hear a relation of the experience of grace of persons, proposed as candidates for your fellowship. While affection is there with its warmth, to enliven your feelings, let prudence come with her fear of doing wrong; and faithfulness attend with its determination to do right; let wisdom draw her conclusions, and love express them to the heart.
Every real accession to the membership of the visible church of Christ is made by the Lord. “The Lord added daily to the church.” (Acts 2:47). Of the primitive preachers of the Gospel it is written, that “the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned unto the Lord.” If the doctrinal sentiment be confined to individuals, none but God can change the heart; and without a change of heart, no man has a right to a place in His house. If it be extended to talent, every good gift, and every perfect gift, cometh down from the Father of lights: if considered with regard to experience, unusually happy, detaching the soul from the world, and enabling the servant of Christ to exhibit a most useful example of self-denial, of active zeal according to knowledge, and of practical devotedness to His cause; it is only the Lord who makes every condition to our strength, to our respectability, and to our usefulness: for we could have no spiritual experience in His Kingdom, without the internal work of His Spirit in our hearts.
If then, we have nothing that is praise-worthy, nothing that is good, which we did not receive from His munificence, let us in all our ways acknowledge Him. The wisdom of Solomon and of the artificers, adorned the temple of God; but as it now stands, it is built by a “greater than Solomon,” and by His wisdom beautified, and rendered glorious. “Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us;” without the subtractions of worldly policy, and without the addition of all our present human inventions. Let not carelessness efface nor presumption change it: ostentation may not show, nor vanity lighten its grave, exact, and elegant form.
As genuine religion always sustains the relation to Gospel truth, which the most delicious fruit has to the sap of the tree which produces, enlarges, enriches, and matures it, so without it, it can have no existence. Fruits of righteousness determine the character, and without ostentation, exhibit unaffected piety. But as there can be no increase to the harvest, where there is no addition to the growth, nor to the quantity of the grain, so there can be no increase to the Kingdom of Messiah, where there is no true religion. The most skilful can make no spiritual addition, where there is nothing to add. A late distinguished and beautiful writer, alluding to a church, in whose proceedings he could feel no accordance, says, “the accession of numbers she gained, was like the small extension of length a body acquires by death; the feeble remains of life were extinct.”
As the circulation of the fluids of the body, without interruption, is necessary to perfect health, so, when He who “bare our sicknesses,” gives us spiritual health, the truth in all its parts, and in all its influences, has a free, and a lively distribution, and is welcomed with equal cordiality and delight. True religion consists in the tendency of the soul, of its affection, and services to God.
It is a compliance yielded to the constraining love of Christ, which surrenders the heart and life, the time, the talents, and the prosperity to God. Were all our churches thus built, what a superstructure would they not exhibit! The similitude of the building of God in the Heavens, they would stand on a moral eminence, the delight of angels, and the praise of the whole earth! They could not be seen without beholding their spirituality; and surveyed by the delighted contemplation, from their foundation more firm and beautiful than the sapphire, to their topmost stone, where sublimity of thought and feeling, rise into praise and adoration: astonishment and rapture, would recognize in them the dwelling place of the Most High.
Let it never be supposed that the Kingdom of Christ is a limited dominion. The kingdoms of this world, like their founders, are limited, imperfect, and designed to pass away. Cast your eye upon the map of the world, and you will perceive that mountains and valleys, and rivers and lakes, assign to the powers which bear rule, their empires, beyond which they are not allowed even the name of a right, or title; but it is by Jesus Christ, that “kings reign,” therefore their empires are His. His unlimited power and Sovereignty, assign laws to the material and spiritual universe. A power so inconceivably vast, might be supposed to overlook, or omit attention to the minuter parts of creation; but the lily stands adorned by it; the sparrow is sustained in his flight; and the hair which grows upon your head, unnoticed by you, is preserved from perishing: - thus the Kingdom of Jesus ruleth over all. He gives to angels their being of dignity; by Him, the vital spark is fanned into a heavenly flame: - the already burning and shining light, becomes resplendent as the sun in the presence of His glory!
The Kingdom of Christ is like Himself, it is spiritual, it is holy, it is boundless, and it is an everlasting Kingdom. It is spiritual as such it exists in the soul; “it is within you, it cometh not with observation:” - as embracing the Gospel church-state, it exhibits the way of salvation. The King on whom devolves its government is an immortal, an infinite, and an eternal Spirit. Is law, which bestows the freedom of its citizenship, is “the law of the spirit of life:” its privileges are spiritual, for they that worship God, “must worship Him, in spirit and in truth:” its enjoyments are spiritual, such, that if the Creator were to annihilate the whole physical frame of the universe, His Kingdom as it now exists, would suffer no diminution. It is a holy kingdom; without holiness no man shall see the Lord: it cannot exist without holiness. The dominion and subjects of Immanuel, with all the blessings of His reign, must therefore, be pure and lovely for ever.
Extending to all nations, it enrolls in its citizenship, as well the Greek and the Jew, as the bond and the free. It blends in one common fraternity, the inhabitants of every clime: its name and fellowship, and endearments, are those of a brotherhood more noble, than the relationship of kings:- the brotherhood of Jesus Christ. It provides for the necessities of all its subjects, but its provisions, are “not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Coeval with every generation of mankind, it will rise and expand, until it fills the whole earth. The earth indeed can assign no limits, to the empire of the Prince Messiah. It is truly the place of its establishment: of the publication of His triumphs, and of its mighty prevalence, but not the measure of its duration. Connected with all time, it truly is, but it is as the mountain streamlet, is connected with the ocean, which receives its tribute, and mingles it in the common mass of its measureless waters, As the rivulet flows to quit the land, for its heaven appointed destination, so the kingdom of Christ, uncircumscribed by the world, passes alike its limits and its duration, and enters into eternity. In the eternity of the kingdom of Christ, the mind realizes a peculiar and delightful satisfaction, for there is in it nothing deficient to be wished, and nothing redundant to be spared: our feeling and consciousness, will be identified with joy and gratitude at the presence of the Lord for ever.
Humility, will never be trodden under foot of pride; reverence, will be stimulated and controlled by perfect love; confidence, will never be impaired, but always respected and reciprocated, and there will be seen, and felt, and handles, not the mere elements of every variety of purity and bliss, which flow from the throne of God and of the Lamb; but the substantial and consummated reality, of a “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
If then such is the nature of the kingdom of Jesus Christ: if it is not too great, to exist in the bosom of a poor sinful creature, and yet is so glorious, as to be commensurate with eternity, it must be unspeakably desirable that it man increase, until the magnitude of its augmented and repeated blessings, shall constitute a broad and thronged highway of life, to the people of every nation. Oh! Could you but see a nation rejecting its cast, and throwing its idols away, the hearts of the people being changed, and constrained by the love of Christ, and by that love made happy; could you witness the transporting joy of angels, at the conversion of a sinner to God: could you feel. But you will feel, and you must, if you are Christians; feel the joys of salvation, when sinners are born of God.
Suffer us to remind you, that it is our privilege to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ daily. As this subject seems not always to be clearly comprehended, we intimate, that grace does not grow in the saints, but they grow in grace. This may be illustrated by a reference to nature. As the earth does not grow in the tree which it supports, as the water does not grow in the fish which swims in it, nor the air, in the bird which it sustains in its flight; but the contrary, so grace does not grow in the believer, it is the element by which he is surrounded; the atmosphere in which he lives, and moves, and has his religious being, growth, and maturity. If the prevalence of the kingdom of God in your hearts is a blessing too great for dimensions and transcending all computation, affords the treasures of heaven to your enjoyment, is it not of equal importance to others? Will it not swell the tide of enjoyment to you, and to all believers, to know that sinners pass “from death unto life,” and are “translated from the kingdom of darkness, into the kingdom of God’s dear Son?” Is the Gospel which is so precious to you, not to become the glorious news of the jubilee of Heaven, to other immortal souls, not yet emancipated from the thralldom of their sins?
Let then the trumpet which announces this glorious liberty, be sounded aloud, until “the north shall give up, and the south shall not keep back,” and the east, and the west, shall yield up from afar, to liberty and to God, the tribute of their sons, and of their daughters, now made nigh by the blood of Christ! Oh! That the joy of this liberation, may swell into angelic rapture, that Heaven and earth, may be glad in His salvation!
Can you, ought you, to be idle spectators, of what God is doing in the earth? Will you not pray for the peace, and prosperity, and enlargement of Zion? Will you not “strengthen the weak hands,” of the ministers of the Gospel? Oh! May your souls awake! In the name of Jesus awake! Arise to industry, and to zeal, in the cause of heaven, in behalf of the whole earth! May your prayers, and your liberality come up before God for a memorial, that you rejoice, to see His glory promoted in the salvation of souls.
Zelotes Grennell, Moderator
John Teasdale, Clerk.
Transcribed by Stanley Phillips – April 2009