Advantages and Expediency


Religious Associations,

Humbly offered

To all Practical Christians.

Malachi 3:16

Then they that feared the LORD, spake often one to another;
and the Lord hearkened and heard it,
and a book of remembrance was written before him, for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his Name.
And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels,
and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.

Printed by John Sadler, in Harrington-Street.
[Price Two-Pence]
some thoughts

Some Thoughts, &c.

Amidst the many peculiar customs and practices which distinguish the Inhabitants of this land of Liberty from most other nations, the prevalence of clubs, societies and associations, is not the least remarkable:  whether we consider their number and variety, or the slight foundations upon which the greater part of them (though perhaps of a splendid appearance) are built. Not only a similarity of sentiments in points of im­portance, but the most accidental resemblance in inclination or circumstances; such as to read the same books, to learn the same language, nay even to have been born in the same county, or to agree in size, shape, feature or complexion, have been sufficient to unite and incorporate large bodies of men, perhaps in other respects of various opinions and different interests. A few, a very few of these Institutions appear to have been formed on views of usefulness, and to be supported by reason and good sense; but the far greater part (it is to be feared) owe their rise and their continuance to no better motives than pride, caprice, indolence or intemperance.
2 He that walketh with wise Men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed. [1] It is not easy to say how much depends on the choice of our company: those who are aware of it will never lightly join in any society from which they can expect no benefit; much less will they lend their names and examples to give A SANCTION TO VICE, or prostitute their time and talents, in promoting and encouraging the various evils under which the Land mourns. Let those who can do thus remember, that though hand joins to hand surely they shall not be unpunished. [2] A day is coming when a combination in iniquity shall be found dreadfully to aggravate both the guilt and the punishment.
3 Those who have a due sense of the shortness and uncertainty of life, and the importance of an impending eternity, can easily answer the usual (and indeed the only) plea offered in defence of many things now in vogue, What harm is in them? It might be indeed sufficient to ask, What good do they? For if none can be pointed out, it should be considered that a privation of good is necessarily evil; as a privation of light is both the cause and the essence of darkness. But not to insist on this: Is it no harm (can they say) to spend hours and evenings successively in conversation where the fear of GOD has no place; but where perhaps his TREMENDOUS NAME is lightly mentioned, his grace neglected, and his commandments broken? Is it indeed no harm for beings capable of com­munion with GOD, to be sunk in the pursuit of trifles, to waste their precious time, and to abuse the plenty Provi­dence has favoured them with? In a word, Is it no harm to be lovers of pleasure more than lovers of GOD? [3] Hear what the Lord himself has said, The harp and the viol, the tabret and pipe, and wine are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operations of his hand: [4]— against these a woe is pronounced. God has made a glorious and a gracious display of himself in his works of creation and providence, and especially in his revealed word: and is it no harm to live in thoughtless indifference about these things? to be so engaged in the vanities of life, as to have no leisure to adore, and to admire him who formed us for himself [5] and gave us tongues to show forth his praise? Again—And in that day did the LORD GOD of hosts call to weeping and to mourning, and to baldness and to girding with sackcloth: and behold, joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine; let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die: and it was revealed in mine ears by the LORD OF HOSTS, surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die, saith the LORD GOD of hosts. [6] These texts need no comment, they are applicable to our own times and case at first view. The Lord even now is sending his judgments into the world; earthquakes, floods, fires, wars and pestilence: [7] by the hand of his PROVIDENCE he calls upon us to mourning and weeping; every rod has a voice. [8] And are we still unable to discern the face of the time? Shall diversions, pastimes, and revellings be as frequent and as earnestly pursued as heretofore? We see indeed it is so: but it is strange any should be found professing the CHRISTIAN name, so thoughtless as to ask if there if any harm in all this.
4 A view of the low state of religion, the general departure from GOD amongst us, has led me into a digression: my design is to address not the nominal professors, but the real, faithful partakers of the GOSPEL, on the expediency and usefulness of forming societies in their turn, of such as truly fear GOD: why should the children of the world be always wiser in their generation than the children of light? [9] We live in a day when experimental religion is so greatly exploded, that common prudence should teach those who are acquainted with it, to unite for their mutual defence and comfort: for so far as they are manifestly chosen out of the world and set above it, so far the world will hate them, or at least despise them. [10] This is part of their master's legacy; but it is strange that in such circumstances they should likewise keep aloof from one another. This no doubt is one cause why they are kept so low, why there is so little love, so little zeal, so little strength amongst them: like live coals separated, they are seemingly almost extinct; but could they be brought into mutual contact, they would enkindle each other, and give both light and heat, to the Glory of GOD, and their own improvement and joy.
5 I would offer my poor mite towards forwarding so desirable an union, by briefly pointing out some of the evils to which I suppose the present too great estrangedness amongst Christians is owing, and particularly the neglect of regular associations: by mentioning a few of the advantages with which such societies are and would be at­tended with; and by pressing it as the duty and privilege of all believers, from motives of general concern.
6 One great occasion of complaint in this matter is the unhappy prevalence of a spirit of bigotry on all sides; an un­due attachment to systems and denominations, or a fondness for our own experiences, which induce us to prescribe to others the very path in which we have been led ourselves; forgetting that where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is liberty; that GOD divides to every one severally as he will; and that the most enlightened, being still but receivers, have no reason either to judge or despise their brethren. Yet I would not be mistaken in this. I am no advocate for that spurious charity which would purchase peace at the expense of the most important truths. I know that for the trial of our faith and patience, not only divisions in lesser matters, but great and essential errors are permitted amongst us: such as strike at the very foundation of our hope, against which it is the duty of every believer to bear his testimony, and not to give place for an hour. But I confine myself to those who having seen the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and their own misery and helplessness, have been led to the LORD JESUS as their only refuge; and from a believing view of the all-sufficiency of his satisfaction and obedience, are enabled to trust in him for a full and free salvation: renouncing their best performances, as to the matter of their acceptance, yet labouring to abound in good works, as evidences of their faith. Whoever have attained thus far (though their apprehensions in some doctrinal points may be very confused and narrow) we have reason to regard as fellow citizens and saints, [11] by whatever name they are called: and we are unjust to them and to ourselves if we do not permit them, if we do not even invite them, to join us in the defence of those great truths in which we are agreed, and which are now on so many hands opposed.
7 Another great hindrance is love of the world. This being directly opposite to the love of GOD, so far as it prevails, must check the progress of the divine life in ourselves, and damp our zeal with respect to others. The world engrosses our time: it is well if we can secure a few minutes for private and family devotions; but we are quite straitened, too busy to attend to unusual services. The world engages our thoughts: and should we give our fellow Christians a meeting, we are so taken up either with cares or contrivances, that we have no tongue or life for spiritual things. The world determines our expenses: the present charge of a family, and a prudent provision for futurity, prevent us from what we would willingly contribute (were we able) for promoting the kingdom and glory of GOD. Can we think of such excuses as these without blushing? Does the apostle say, if any man love the world, the love of the father is not in him? [12] Does our Lord require us to deny ourselves daily; [13] nay does he expressly declare that if a man forsaketh not all that he hath he cannot be his disciple: [14] and do we still creep on in so cold and general a way, as make it difficult to distinguish us from those who have no hope be­yond the present life?
8 There is a third evil, which though perhaps some be­lievers are not acquainted with, yet it is a great hindrance to many that are weal [15] in the faith, I mean a sinful, cowardly shame, which tempts them to restrain their light, to hide their gifts, and to deprive themselves of many advan­tages. How strangely does this sound: A soldier of Jesus Christ [16] ashamed of his master's cause! how different from the great apostle who counted the cross his highest glory? [17] It is an undoubted truth that all who will live godly in CHRIST JESUS shall suffer persecution [18] of some kind or other: this is the portion of the Church of GOD in all ages. Our forefathers in this very land were called to racks and flames for the testimony of Jesus, and rejoiced that they were ac­counted worthy to suffer for his name['s] sake. [19] In our happy day we are exposed to nothing worse than the strife of tongues: if we cannot bear this, how can we look forward to times of greater trial, perhaps nearly approaching? How can we be followers of HIM, who for our sakes was laughed to scorn, [20] and made the song and derision of drunkards?
9 But the great, fundamental evil, to which all others may be referred, is UNBELIEF. Did we firmly be­lieve that the very meanest[least] of CHRIST'S sheep are members of his body, of his flesh, and his bones: [21] we could not despise and set at naught our brethren, because their attain­ments were (in our judgments at least) beneath our standard. Did we properly feel the constraining force of the love of CHRIST [22] in what he has done and suffered for us, we should not think our time, our talents, our activity, or our substance were given us for any other ends than the promo­ting his interest and our own sanctification. Did we believe that he who soweth sparingly shall reap sparingly, [23] we should find, and the world would see a very great difference both in the manner and degree of our application to spiritual things. Did we firmly believe that those who honour and own the cause of CHRIST now, (and those only) he has promised to own and honour in the presence of men and angels [24] at the great day; far from shrinking under reproach, we should esteem it matter of our exceeding joy. Such of us as are too apt to value ourselves upon the clearness of our knowledge and conceptions in doctrinal points, ought seriously to consider, that notwithstanding the enlargement we may find in discoursing or meditating on the great mysteries of the gospel; we have not one tittle more real vital know­ledge, than what has an actual permanent influence upon our lives and conversations. Though we could speak with the tongues of men and angels, [25] and had faith to remove mountains, it will profit no farther than as love to God, and to man for God's sake, shall prompt us to a more extensive usefulness, in proportion to our light. Can we suppose a person whom the LORD has led to rest upon his everlasting love; who has an assured hope that there is laid up for him a crown of life, [26] an exceeding and unutterable weight of glory; and yet this person so highly favoured does nothing more than others? nay perhaps is less humble, less exemplary, less zealous, than another, who through much darkness and many temptations follows resolutely on to know the LORD. Such a case (I know by experience) may be true: but how much to be lamented! how ought it to lay us low in the dust, and fill us with wonder at the goodness and forbearance of GOD? how should it make us willing to suffer a word of admonition, and in lowliness of heart esteem each other better than ourselves?
10 I proceed to mention a few of the advantages which may be expected in such societies as I am recommending; those who adopt the practice will find more. HEREBY we gain a happy increase in gifts: meeting together to plead the gracious promise of GOD, that where two or three are assembled in his name, he will be with them [27] to bless them; we experience his word to be truth, and that he has not commanded us to seek his face in vain. [28] In these exercises he is often pleased to open the mouth of the unlearned, and to teach the tongue of the stammerer to speak plainly. [29]
11 Hereby we are led into a closer acquaintance with the work of the Holy Spirit, and the nature of the Divine life; when by comparing experiences we observe with wonder and delight, that it is the same GOD that worketh all in all in his chil­dren, amidst the great variety of talents, tempers, dispositions and circumstances he has assigned them. [30] Those who are distressed with fears and temptations, perceive that no new thing has befallen them; [31] but that the same, or the like afflictions are accomplished in their brethren in the world: and those who perhaps thought too highly of their own attainments, observe by comparing themselves with others, in what points they still fall short.
12 Hereby we strengthen each other’s hands, by mutual prayers and exhortations, and by discovering[revealing] to each other the various artifices the tempter makes use of to disturb our peace; and the methods by which we are enabled to obtain the victory, through HIM who conquers in us.
13 In a word; we hereby gather strength against those evils I have already mentioned; which when they cannot hinder our joining together at first, will yet, unless carefully guarded against, prevent our improvement afterwards. When we find that those whom perhaps we have been apt to think too hardly of, because differing from us in some sentiments or circumstances, are yet partakers of the same precious faith [32] with ourselves: the spirit of bigotry looses[loses] ground in us, and we learn to love with a pure heart fer­vently all that sincerely love the LORD JESUS: we get above the influence of names and parties, and are enabled to honour the grace and the image of CHRIST, wherever we find it. By frequent conversation on heaven and hea­venly things, our hearts are proportionably freed from the love of the world. We grow less liable to the impressions of shame in appearing for our master's cause: by waiting upon him in private we learn to stand up for him in public, and to have a holy boldness for God and his ways, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. [33] And lastly, we grow strong in the LORD, and the power of his might, against the prevalence of unbelief. When we find that the word on which we are desirous to hope, is likewise the support and stay of others, who are at times under the like difficulties, and subject to the same infirmities with ourselves; they become so many additional evidences of our security, and confirm to us that he is faithful who has promised, who also will do it. [34]
14 Many considerations may be offered by way of motives to press us to this work, if a view of the advan­tages connected with it are not thought sufficient induce­ment.
15 Our duty and relation to GOD imply it. He has chosen us to himself a peculiar people, to the end [that] we should show forth his praise, who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light: [35] he has adopted us to be his chil­dren; we ought therefore to walk as children of the light. [36] He has commanded us to seek his face; [37] he has promised to be in the midst of us, [38] even to write down our religious communications in his book of remembrance; [39] and he has given us subject matter of discourse, in the great things he has done and prepared for us.
16 The example of the Saints in all ages confirms it, the church of old without doubt made conscience of that Divine precept: Thou shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, etc. [40] David invites all that feared the LORD to hear what GOD had done for his soul; [41] and Malachi mentions it as the practice of those who feared the LORD to speak often one to another. [42] And in latter days we may observe that in proportion to the rise and decay of vital godliness, this pri­vilege has been more or less attended to.
17 The time in which we live loudly calls for it. A day of clouds and darkness, a day of rebuke and opposition; [43] in which the judgments of God are abroad in the world, and hanging over a sinful, insensible nation. Such were the times described by the prophet Malachi, in the passage before mentioned: he especially remarks, that it was THEN those who feared the Lord, etc. THEN especially when the words of others were stout against GOD, and their hearts hardened; THEN those who feared him were stirred up to wait more closely and frequently upon Him. It is now our duty to be mourning in secret for the abominations [44] that are done amongst us. It was a dreadful sign against Jerusalem, that the Lord sought for a man to stand in the gap [45] on their behalf and there was found none. GOD grant it may never be our case. We are now upon the brink of an awful war; a great part of our Plantations actually depopulated in the most dreadful manner, and threatened with an invasion at home; the visitation upon our cattle renewed; a more alarming pestilence rages and destroys in countries not very distant from us, and the foundations of the earth have been shaken all around us. Where will these things end? Surely if the LORD has mercy yet in store for us, he will stir up and unite his people to cry mightily unto him, before sentence against our evil works [46] is irrevocably gone forth.
18 We do not act consistently if we neglect it. We profess that we are strangers and pilgrims upon earth; that our treasure is in heaven; that we are followers of CHRIST. Should not we therefore be glad to discourse of the nature and circumstances of our journey; of the difficulties we do or may meet with, and the accommoda­tions we receive or stand in need of on our way? Should not our conversation [47] be where our hope is? Ought we not to walk even as CHRIST himself walked? and his whole life was a pattern of what I am aiming to recommend. Is it not thus in temporal things? those who are travelling on the same road, who have concerns in the same place, who are opposed by the same enemies, and who must (if they go at all) be conducted by the same guide, will unite of course. And that man would be deemed highly imprudent and presumptuous, who designing to traverse an intricate wilderness, beset with troops of robbers on every side, should persist in going alone, when suitable company and assistance were offered him.
19 The practice of the world (as I hinted before) should animate us to it. How fatally do the sensual and profane strengthen each other in their several ways? With an unhappy diligence they compass [48] (as it were) sea and land to gain proselytes. Sinful gratifications, and erroneous principles of various kinds, are become as so many different banners, under which numbers enlist, as their inclinations lead them. Let us lament their delusions; but let us imitate their zeal.  Fas est et ab hoste doceri. [Ovid: One should learn even from one's enemies.]
20 Once more, I might urge the visible success with which very late attempts of this kind have been blessed, as an encouragement to others to go and do likewise. Some I have known where from [49] very small and imperfect be­ginnings, the LORD has given abundance of increase, both in numbers and graces.  And so far as I have enjoyed opportunities of this kind, I can say by experience it is good to be there. [50] I have sometimes found enlargement, light and comfort in private meetings amongst Christian bre­thren, which I have missed in the more stated ordinances of worship. And though it becomes a believer to attend to those in the first place; for the LORD loveth the gates of Sion more than all the dwellings of Jacob: [51] yet in these secondary ordinances, if I may so term them, he has a blessing to bestow upon his people, which they find to be well worth the waiting on him for.
21 If these imperfect hints should be blest with the least usefulness, I have my end; and shall not be greatly solicitous what censures they may draw upon my own head. I am sensible I have explained myself enough to disoblige the zealots of all parties, though unwillingly. I must submit to be deemed an Enthusiast by some, from whom I would wish to deserve a better thought: while others will perhaps charge me with indifference, if not treachery to the doctrines I profess to believe. But if my intention (however mistaken) shall appear to be good, may I not hope for candour, even where I cannot expect approbation? I would neither pro­voke nor defy any person whatsoever: such a courage, I fear, is too often no better than a disguised pride; yet on the other hand when it is necessary to deliver my sentiments, I think it the part of an honest man to speak plain. And by the grace of God, I can say with the Apostle, I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; [52] having experienced it to be the power of God unto salvation, to myself; I am ready to bear my testimony to others. And to give an account of the hope that is in me, yet with meekness and fear. [53]
22 Still less am I careful of my character as a writer. I had some things upon my mind, which I judged of common concern: and had I known any other effectual way to communicate them, I should probably have chosen it. But if in this I have made myself intelligible, I aimed at no more.
23 I submit the whole to the blessing of Almighty GOD; the author of all grace, the giver of every good and perfect gift; who can work by the meanest[lowliest] instruments, and ordain strength out of the mouths of babes and sucklings: [54] humbly beseeching him in his infinite mercy to look down upon his divided Church; to restore our backslidings; to reform our errors; to awaken our zeal; to heal our breaches, and to unite our hearts to fear his name, through JESUS CHRIST our LORD. Amen.



1 Proverbs 13:20
2 Proverbs 11:21
3 2 Timothy 3:4
4 Isaiah 5:12
5 Isaiah 43:21 [mistakenly printed as “vliii” instead of “xliii” – Ed]
6 Isaiah 22:12,13,14
7 [‘earthquakes, floods, fires, wars and pestilence’ — When Newton wrote this, between late 1755 and early 1756, England was on the brink of Seven Years War with France, with an invasion thought imminent. A major earthquake, approaching 9.0 on the Richter scale, devastated Lisbon, killing tens of thousands. It was followed by tsunamis wrecking ships and fortresses, surging inland. That in turn was accompanied by fires which raged for 5 days. The earthquake was felt in Finland, North Africa, Greenland and the Caribbean. Tsunamis triggered by the earthquake affected Cornwall and Ireland. Fears of famine and pestilence were rife. The French and Indian War raged across the Virginian frontier in America. It was indeed a time of ‘earthquakes, floods, fires, wars and pestilence’. – Ed]
8 Micah 6: 9
9 Luke 16:8
10 John 15:18,19
11 Ephesians 2:19
12 1 John 2:15
13 Luke 9:23
14 Luke 14:33
15 [‘weal’ — an archaic use of the word, meaning 'welfare', or here perhaps 'well-established' or 'happy' in their faith; the commonwealth was established for the common weal, or the common good of man – Ed]
16 2 Timothy 2:3
17 Galatians 6:14
18 2 Timothy 3:12
19 Acts 5:41
20 Luke 8:53; Psalm 69:12
21 Ephesians 5:30
22 2 Corinthians 5:14
23 2 Corinthians 9:6
24 Matthew 10:32
25 1 Corinthians 13:1,2; Philippians 2:3
26 2 Timothy 4:8
27 Matthew 18:20
28 Isaiah 45:19
29 Isaiah 32:4
30 1 Corinthians 12:6 [the correct position of this reference was omitted from the main text – Ed]
31 1 Peter 4:12; & 5:9
32 2 Peter 1:1,6
33 Philippians 2:15
34 1 Thessalonians 5:24
35 1 Peter 2:9
36 Ephesians 5:8
37 2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalm 27:8
38 Matthew 18:20
39 Malachi 3:16
40 Deuteronomy 6:7
41 Psalm 66:16
42 Malachi 3:16
43 Joel 2:2; 2 Kings 19:3
44 Ezekiel 9:4
45 Ezekiel 22:30
46 Ecclesiastes 8:11
47 Philippians 3:20 [mistakenly printed in the original tract as 3:28 – Ed]
48 Matthew 23:16 [verse 15 intended, for KJV – Ed]
49 Job 8:7
50 Luke 9:33
51 Psalm 87:2
52 Romans 1:16
53 1 Peter 3:15
54 Psalm 8:2


Manchester University: Some Thougths on Religious Associations  can be viewed in full via this link.
Image used here Copyright of the University of Manchester, used under Creative Commons License
KJV reproduced by permission of Cambridge University Press, the Crown’s patentee in the UK

Marylynn Rouse, 06/11/2015