Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Meeting for Brotherly Conference, 1788

In the late eighteenth century, some local church leaders (not ministers) in Easter Ross agreed to meet regularly for prayer and fellowship because they were concerned about the decline in spiritual vibrancy in their churches. Aware of possible criticism, they drew up the following explanation of their gathering together.

Invergorden Ness, 17th September, 1788.
‘The after subscribing persons,(1) having, by the kind providence of God, and as the outward fruit of the gospel, attained to an intimate acquaintance of one another, although from different parishes; yet as members of one church, of which Christ is the professed head: – After spending some time in considering privately together, and secretly alone, the too many undeniable proofs (from the light of the word of God, and our own woful experience) of our own deadness and unfruitfulness, and the deadness and unfruitfulness of the day, with the prevailing of all manner of sin in the land –

‘We have come to the following resolution, that is, to meet four times in the year, or as oft as shall be judged fit and most convenient, and in the places that shall be agreed upon, to humble ourselves before the Lord by prayer and supplication, that He would avert the threatened and deserved judgment (in which we acknowledge our own guilty hands) which is already making too visible a progress one year after another. It is generally owned by the most considerable part of ministers and professors, that the Lord hath withdrawn his wonted presence, in a great measure, from his people and ordinances (and we own though others would deny this, that we have daily experience of it,) which calls for such a duty; and among other causes we briefly name the following.

‘I. The woful deadness and decay that hath fallen on ourselves, our heart backslidings, our closet coldness, our family formality, our dry and careless reading of the word of God, our barren minds as to meditation on the word, with love, profit, and delight; from whence has proceeded an untender walk, unguarded expressions, carnality in heart, inclinations, and actions, worldly in our minds and pursuits, resisting the remonstrances of our consciences, checks from providence, and the word of God, grieving the Holy Spirit, whereby our evidence of his love to us, and our interest in Christ, is darkened, which makes us go doubting in the dark.

‘II. The deadness and decay of the day we live in, as to a work of the Spirit on the generation. There are few or none crying, “What shall I do to be saved?” The Lord hath been calling home his faithful labourers and people these many years by-gone, and few – few rising in their room; whereby the hands of those that remain are weakened when they are not seeing a seed rising to serve Him, according to His promise; but instead of that, all manner of vice and immorality rising in our land: Adultery, fornication, and uncleanness, among all ranks, (of which it were to be wished that professors of religion were free,) – murders, robbery, and thefts, – hatred, malice, lying, Sabbath-breaking, &c., – contempt of godliness and the people of God, – religion evil spoken of, and the sincere practisers of it branded and stigmatised as the troublers of the peace of Israel, and as a people that turn the world upside down; which is a matter of lamentation, and should be a lamentation to us.

‘III. The low case of the church of Christ and His cause in our land: Great men setting up their power and interest to oppose Christ in His rights, prerogatives, and members. In His rights as sole Head of the church, and His prerogative to reign and rule in it; they (the great men) are thrusting in ministers on reclaiming congregations, with the force of the law of Patronage, – ministers who have nothing in view but the fleece; their manner of entry and their after walk proves it is not sparing the flock, but scattering them; which is a sin greatly to be mourned for, and has turned common in our day, and practised without a parallel. And when we add to this sin, the sin of the Judicatories of our Church, that so few of them witness for Christ and his members, with the neutrality of almost all professors in our day, which in the light of the word is clear to be against Christ (Mark, ix, 40) and his interest, and nothing but men-pleasers, – when they comply and fall in with whatever is proposed to them, they would not venture on the frown of men for a good conscience and the favour of God, (how learned Peter and John, divinity of God rather than men!) which we desire to acknowledge to be matter of humiliation before that, the professors of Christ are not confessors of Christ, – oh what can be found among a people to bring on wrath that is not found in our land this day! when to this we add corruption in doctrine, legalism generally taught, (which is laying too much stress upon works,) or of more refined pressing of evangelical duties without an eye to the Spirit of God. Some press duties, so as they seem to think that their own reasonings are able to enforce a compliance, and more than that, as of old, so of late, we hear that some broach awful errors, and that with impunity.

‘IV. The case of the young generation, who are generally given up to irreligion, and contempt of all that is serious, despising even the form of religion. What will become of the cause of Christ and his interest in our laud, if they continue as they are?

‘And being together for the above causes, we resolve to keep the following order, namely:

‘First. That each meeting shall choose a Preses, (only for order’s sake,) whose province will be to read and sing a portion of the word of God, and call one about to pray; and during the intervals betwixt the said duties, if one of us have a doubt, upon which he would have the mind of his brethren, that each give his thoughts freely upon it, for our mutual edification.

‘Secondly. That none of us bring any other person into this our meeting, without consent of the rest asked and obtained.

‘Thirdly. As the word of God requireth, that we should consider one another, to provoke unto love and good works; therefore, if one or more of us. see or hear any thing unbecoming in the walk, conduct, or expressions of one another, that we be free with one another, according to the Scripture rule: “Go tell thy brother his fault,” &c. Matthew, xviii, 15. “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart; thou shalt in any wise rebuke him, and not suffer sin upon him” Lev. xix, 17.

‘We are aware that this our meeting together, out of different parishes, will be misconstructed; but so far as we know ourselves, we have no divisive views in it; nor do we make a faction; and we desire to give none offence; but if the following of our duty give offence, we cannot help that. If we could meet unobserved, it would be our choice: not that we are ashamed of our duty, about which to find we have been at pains, and searched the word of God, and found it to be His command; and the exercise of His people, in such a day as we live in, to meet together for prayer and spiritual conference, as in Mal. iii, 16: “Then they that feared the Lord spoke one to another.’ The command in Zeph. ii, 1-3, seems to be to the same purpose: “Gather yourselves together,” &c.; and Heb. x, 21, 25: “And let us consider one another – not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together – for as much as ye see the day approaching.” These portions of Scripture, besides others that might be mentioned, prove that fellowship-meetings of the Lord’s people, mutual prayer, and spiritual conference, (being held within the bounds of men’s station,) is a necessary duty and special mean of life in a declining time, and of strengthening against the temptations of such a time. Wherefore seeing our call and warrant from the word, the example of the people of God, and the Lord’s dispensations, in the day we live in calling for it, our own needy cases calling for it, (being a day of famine,) we have now come this length, as to appoint the first Wednesday of November coming for our first quarterly meeting. And may those more near the Lord be stirred up for such a necessity, in a day of so much deadness and lukewarmness, that the Lord may justly complain as in Isaiah, Ixiv, 7: “There is none that calleth on thy name,” &c. O! for the spirit of prayer to cry, “Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts, look down,” &c., “Quicken us and we will call on thy name.”’

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