The elders and messengers of the several churches met in Association in the city of Philadelphia, October 4th, 1791.
To the churches in union with this Association, send greeting.
Beloved brethren, - We are happy at the close of this anniversary meeting, to inform you, we have enjoyed an agreeable interview. By communications from the churches, we rejoice to hear that peace is enjoyed so generally, and that to many of them considerable additions have been made. It is matter of much satisfaction, that, in this day of prevailing error, there appears amongst you so general a concern for the preservation of divine truth. From corresponding Associations we have received very agreeable intelligence. On the whole, we have been called upon to very grateful acknowledgments for the goodness and grace of God manifested the year past. But our joys abate, while we reflect on the heavy tidings so generally mentioned in your letters, of the death of our highly esteemed and dearly beloved Brother, Dr. Manning; who, engaged in the dearest interests of religion, of science, and the prosperity of his country, fell from the zenith of glory and usefulness. In the general loss we sustain an important part. No longer shall we enjoy his able counsels, his divine and persuasive eloquence, nor his personal friendship. But while we trust he fell, to rise to higher, to celestial glories, and joys unspeakable, resignation becomes us. May the Lord sanctify to the churches and ministers of Christ, the awful stroke; enable us to feel, and faithfully discharge, the duties devolving on us, and imitate his amiable example.
The subject on which we are now to address you, brethren, is, the Perseverance of the saints grace, in till it shall be consummated in glory. Confession of faith, Chapter 17.
A doctrine which forms an important article in the system of divine truth, and of which Revelation abounds with evidence; a sentiment calculated to administer the truest spiritual support to the real Christian, to influence him to the warmest zeal for God, and holiness of life.
In treating on this subject, in an epistolary way, it will not be expected to enter at large on what might be said on it, nor formally to encounter all the unreasonable objections which have been raised against it. To convince you of this truth, we trust, dear brethren, there is no necessity. To quicken your graces, and awaken your gratitude, for so divine a support in your Christian race, is chiefly intended.
By asserting the perseverance of the saints in grace, we do not mean to convey an idea, that through the various and powerful oppositions, they may fall into sin, be overtaken in transgression, to the wounding of their own souls, the tenderest feelings of their brethren, the churches of Christ, the interests of religion in general, and the displeasure of God, - but, that through this unspeakable grace and mercy he will not suffer them so to fall, and continue therein, as totally and finally to perish. He will, by sore chastisements, or such other means as, in his wisdom shall seem best, bring them to an affecting sense of their sins, to genuine repentance for them, and deep humiliation before him, - as in the instances of Peter, David, and others, - and restore them. "If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless, my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips." (Psalm 89:30-34)
We exclude, in the consideration of this subject, all false professors of religion, of every description, whatever may be their attainments, as in the grace of knowledge, talents, or tongues, and power of working miracles, who, nevertheless, are, and continue, destitute of the renewing grace of God. Hence, those who have made a fair show in religion for a time, as the foolish virgins, Matt. 25. The branches who were in the true vine, either by profession only, or in relation to Abraham, John 15. Those, who in a sense may have tasted of the good word of God, as the stony ground hearers, Matt. 13; or, as Herod, who heard John gladly, Matt. 6:20. Those who may have embraced the doctrine of the gospel, frequently styled "The Faith," in the New Testament, Acts 24:24; I Tim. 1:21; II Tim. 3:8; as Hymeneus and Alexander, who in time made shipwreck thereof, I Tim. 1:20. Those who have been enlightened, and had the gift of prophecy, as Balaam, I Cor. 13:2; or who had the gift of tongues - power to. work miracles, and, as such, tasted of the powers of the world to come, or of the gospel dispensation, as Judas, Heb. 6:5, - all such we exclude, - of all such there is no sufficient evidence, that any of them were renewed by the grace of God, but of many of them the fullest testimony they were not. We, therefore, cannot plead their perseverance in grace, which they never had; nor can such instances of defection, with any propriety, be produced as objections to the doctrine in contemplation.
We assert, that those only will persevere in the way of eternal life, and attain unto it, in whom the regenerating grace of God has, or will take place. That this will be the happy event with all such, through the riches of sovereign mercy and goodness, the following considerations evince.
The everlasting love of God to his people, manifested in Christ Jesus, tends to establish the truth.
Of his church of old, God says, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore, with loving kindness have I drawn thee." (Jer. 3 1:3) This is the true origin of the stupendous plan laid by God the Father, for the salvation of his people. The true source of the execution of this plan is by the mediation of Christ the Son. From hence proceeds the execution of the gracious offices of the Holy Ghost, in the conversion of sinners, as a necessary preparation for the enjoyment of heaven. It is he who draws and leads them from death to life - from sin to holiness - from enmity to God to the love of him. Agreeably to this, divine testimony says, "We love him, because he first loved us." (I John 4:19) "Having loved his own, he loveth them to the end," John 13: 1, - even to everlasting.
That the love of God, in its manifestations and influences, would issue in the perseverance of the saints, and bring them to glory, Paul had the fullest assurance, when he asks with an air of triumph, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 8:35,37-39)
This sentiment receives strength from the connection which subsists between the grace given to sinners, and God's eternal decrees; when the good work is begun, it is the gracious accomplishment of his purposes to them from everlasting. "Who hath called us with an holy calling, according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." On this foundation, then, the purpose of God, his word proceeds. The gospel is preached wherever it comes. "As many as were ordained to eternal life, believed," Acts 13:48. "He that believeth on the Son, hath everlasting life," John 3:36, "He that believeth, shall be saved," Mark 16:16, - shall not perish. "The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved," Acts 2:47, - should not be lost. Such is the inseparable connection between election - grace communicated, and the contemplation of it in glory. "For whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified." (Romans 8:30)
The possession Christ has taken of the believer, by his grace, deserves notice. Formerly Satan had dominion; kept his goods in peace; reigned and ruled in them in the state of their unbelief and disobedience. But when the King of Zion arrests the sinner; casts out the strong man armed; takes the empire of the soul to himself, and establishes the kingdom of his grace, who shall dispossess him? Can it be supposed, that he who is conquered, dethroned, routed, and enfeebled, shall regain what he was unable to hold? Does Christ take possession, but to keep it! Shall any power subdue Omnipotence, recaptivate a new born heir of eternal life? No, none shall be able to pluck them out of his hand; nor out of his Father's hand, who is greater than all, John 10:25-29.
The nature of this divine life merits our attention. The soul of man being immortal; eternal in its future existence; that which is necessary to its happiness ought to be of the like nature and duration. That principle of divine life by which the soul is quickened in regeneration, is such; "I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish," John 10:28. Its source is the eternal Jehovah; its communication free; its continuance durable as the immortal Spirit. It is assimilated to a seed that remaineth - to a well of water springing up unto everlasting life, which the scorching heat of persecution, fiery trials, and darts of the devil, shall not dry up, but the riches of grace will replenish; the smoking flax which shall not be quenched - a spark of life which the many waters of affliction cannot quench, nor floods of temptation drown; which will not expire amidst the dashing of the most boisterous waves of trouble and distress; but nourished by him that gave it - will live and glow, till it shall blaze in eternal day.
All obstructions to the saints' perseverance and salvation are removed. The demands of the law of God against them are fully answered by Christ their surety. There is no condemnation to such, Rom. 8:1. The awful separation between God and them, made by sin, is healed; peace and reconciliation is made by the blood of the cross, Col. 1:20; Rom. 5:1. The way of communication with God is open; on God's part, to confer all spiritual blessings upon them; on their part, that they may have free access to God, through the mediation of Christ, Eph. 2:18. Their enemies are conquered, Psalm 89:23. The "works of the devil" destroyed, I John 3:8. Sin is dethroned, and "shall not have dominion over them," Rom. 6:14. The world is overcome. And, though imperfections cleave to them, and trials surround them, they have a prevailing advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, "who ever liveth to make intercession for them." Rom. 8:33,34.
It is a pleasure to observe, that the means for the promoting and effecting the perseverance of the saints are well established. Gifts for men, for the perfecting of the saints, the work of the ministry, the edifying of the body of Christ, Eph. 4:12. The divine word, rich in all important truth, tending to establish the soul in righteousness; the rich and precious promises of the gospel for encouragement and comfort; the most suitable instructions in every state of the spiritual warfare; faithful warnings against sin; the glorious examples of the saints, who have gone before us, to engage us to emulate their conduct; the falls and transgressions of others, held up as beacons, to warn all the camp of Israel against iniquity; the ministrations of the word, also, opening, illustrating, and enforcing the above; the ordinances of the gospel; prayer, Christian fellowship; together with the laws and discipline of the house of God; all tending, under a divine influence, to accomplish their final perseverance.
The Lord Jesus, overruling all things together for good to them who love God, is a further confirmation of this truth, Rom. 8:28. The gospel shall work effectually in them who believe I Thess. 2:13. The various dispensations of Providence shall concur to this end. Prosperity sanctified, shall promote gratitude, obedience, and humility; adversity shall correct us; afflictions teach the vanity of worldly enjoyments; bereavements, their uncertainty, and the necessity of a better hope. These will cause the children of God to cleve to him. Tribulation shall work patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, that maketh not ashamed; and he that hath this hope in him purifieth himself.
But, brethren, the time would fail us to dwell on the considerations arising from the covenant of grace, ordered in all things, and sure; redemption by Jesus Christ; the charge he has taken of his people; the promises of the gospel, all tending to establish this doctrine. As also from the perfections of God, his immutability, justice, power, wisdom, faithfulness, and truth, all engaged to bring the heirs of grace, through perseverance therein, to glory.
A popular objection made to this doctrine is that it tends to licentiousness; that if the perseverance of the saints is sure, they may be as wicked as any - all will be well.
Strange, that proving the perseverance of saints in grace should be a license for them to be devils in wickedness! That advancing in holiness should be a reason for abounding in sin! It is fatal to this objection, that it bears the strongest features of that raised against the doctrines of grace of old: "Let us continue in sin, that grace may abound;" and may be well answered in like manner: "God forbid. How shall we, who are dead to sin, live any longer therein," Rom. 6:1,2. The objection is founded on the perverse disposition, not of a renewed, but of an unrenewed heart, which the love of God does not constrain; which does not love God for his holiness, nor delights in his law; nor has seen his ways, - ways of pleasantness, and paths of peace; but is in love with sin, and rejoices in an excuse or opportunity to indulge it. As such, it is inapplicable to the real saint, who delights in the law of God after the inward man. The objection, therefore, ought to fall, and men of grace be ashamed to raise it again.
Another objection is, that the certainty of the saints perseverance in grace leads to negligence and inattention to the duties of religion. We are ready to compare notes, not for a transient flight of zeal, but through the whole lives of those real professors of religion who hold, and those who oppose, this doctrine. This objection rests on the same foundation with the other, and as liable to the same fate. It cannot be proved that this sentiment had this effect on the immediate real disciples of Christ; but it is abundantly evident it had the reverse tendency. Paul, who had the highest confidence that he who had begun a good work in the saints at Philippi, would perform it till the day of Jesus Christ, and represents them as faithful and zealous brethren, says of himself, "I press forward toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus," Phil. 3:14. His brethren he exhorts, "Having these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God," II Cor. 7:1.
To indulge a licentious spirit, or indifference to the duties of religion, on the ground of these objections, would be a most flagrant violation of the laws of reason, gratitude, and love.
May you, dear brethren, continue persuaded of this truth, and partake of the support to be derived from it. How uncertain are all temporal enjoyments and prospects! How happy for the people of God, that in the most important of all concerns, those of religion, there is a stability! That the foundation standeth sure, - the Lord knoweth them that are his! Having begun a good work in you, he will perform it. That the perseverance of the saints in grace to the consummation of it in glory is sure! How supporting the reflection! how animating the prospect!
Shall not the stupendous plan of sovereign grace and love, by which the sinner's salvation will be so surely and fully completed, for ever command the admiration of angels and men!
Will not the warmest gratitude glow in every heart on the remembrance of it? Shall not the most cheerful obedience be rendered? the most ardent affection arise to God? the most devout adoration ascend from every soul? Surely these are the genuine offspring of grace, so great, so sure, so rich, so free.
Is there a professor amongst us to whom these emotions are not more common than the rising sun! Be alarmed, oh man! Has the law of sin gained the ascendancy over the law of thy mind? or hath the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus never made thee free from the law of sin and death? Examine thyself.
Are any fallen into sin, how great their ingratitude! How aggravated their transgressions, to sin against such amazing love, unspeakable goodness, and rich grace! to offend against so many and great obligations to obedience. What pungent distress, what shame, what sorrow, must ensue! How light my affliction compared with my sin! says the offender; surely he has not visited me according to my sin, nor rewarded me according to my transgression. And oh! will he not take his loving kindness from me, nor suffer his faithfulness to fail? Is there yet hope? Oh, grace beyond degree!
With this prospect before us in prosperity, with this support in affliction, trial, and darkness, to which we are liable in this pilgrimage state, let us press forward in the way of truth and holiness.
Now, unto God the Father be glory in the church, through Jesus Christ, world without end. Amen.
Elder William Vanhorn
Samuel Jones, Moderator
John Stancliff Clerk