Baptist History Homepage

The Spirit of Devotion, the Special Necessity of the Times
Circular Letter to the Churches
By the Rev. William Wilder, M.A.
Read and Adopted, October 8, 1857
“Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” This truth, which the inspired apostle taught the Corinthian Church, was the living sentiment of his own soul. The love of Jesus in rescuing him from the deep abyss of ruin, pervaded his entire being, and led him to the holy determination of knowing nothing, “save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

      He possessed much of the spirit of his Divine Master, who could ever say, “my meat is to do the will of Him that sent me.” This devotion to God imparted power and success to his labors in the salvation of men. The same principle pervading a mind less enriched by mental endowments, would have achieved wonders in the kingdom of Christ. This holy energy gives efficiency to christian character and action, for it is created within us by the Gracious Spirit, and unites and moulds in one unchangeable fellowship the creature and the Creator. To have our character and aims Godlike, is the great want of our being. That there is a heart-rending deficiency upon this subject in the religious world, is seen in the single fact that though more than eighteen centuries since the ascending Saviour said to his disciples, “go

p. 76
ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature;” as we look over earth s busy inhabitants in this age of missions, we see more than seven hundred millions of souls, who are without God and without hope. Is this watching for souls “as they that must give account.” Have we not greatly failed “to warn the wicked from his way,” and will not his blood be required at our hands? Verily, brethren, “the spirit of devotion, . is the special necessity of the times.”

      Here the inquiry naturally meets us; What are we required to devote to the service of God? The voice of Scripture clothed with infinite authority says to each one, “give me thine heart.” That is, devote all your powers to my commands. All intelligent beings, from the highest in heaven to the most humble of earth, are required so to do, and all are in possession of an intuitive sense of responsibility to God, and the necessity of devotion to his service. The lofty seraph before the throne of the Eternal, who casts his dazzling crown at the feet of his Sovereign Lord; and the untutored savage who wickedly worships the rude idol his own hands have carved, both exhibit the principle of devotion as a part of their moral nature. One manifests it in the majestic loveliness of a pure heart; the other in the depraved workings of a soul that is “dead in trespasses and sins.” The peculiar glory of man when first created, was in being wholly devoted to the will of his Maker. Though sin has perverted every faculty of the soul, yet it is natural for man to worship, and in the hour of danger to seek protection from a higher power. If this principle sometimes lies dormant, it only requires the requisite circumstances to reveal its existence and power. But the disciple of Jesus has other and higher obligations than those arising from the relations he sustains as creature to the Creator. He has been redeemed from

p. 77
hopeless despair “with the precious blood of Christ.” Jesus having paid the purchase price, demands the entire surrender of the deathless soul to Him, and this right He will never relinquish to another. He requires that we give ourselves “a living sacrifice holy acceptable unto God,” and claims it as a “reasonable service.” The noblest spectacle earth can present, is to witness the soul filled with devotion to the God that made it, and the Saviour who hath redeemed it. The mind that is devoid of such consecration, is deficient not only of the brightest ornament human nature can possess; but in all that constitutes real greatness of character, as viewed by the Infinitely Holy One.

      We love the self-sacrificing character of Carey, and are astonished at the great labors accomplished by him; but the secret of all that was lovely and great in his character may be learned from a letter written by him to his venerable father, just before sailing for India. “To be devoted like a sacrifice to holy uses, is the great business of a christian. I consider myself as devoted to the service of God alone.” A single sentence from the lips of the devoted Judson, reveals to us the controlling feeling of his life. “If we only please Christ no matter for the rest.” The logical power of Edwards has largely moulded the theological opinions of the religious world, but its vitalising energy is found in the spirit of devotion which led him to resolve, “never to act as if I were in any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s.” This spirit nerves the follower of Jesus to undertake, and successfully achieve, much in the kingdom of grace. We need the devotion to Christ's cause that in comparison with it, all else will appear of little worth. Instead of this, if we look over the churches how many do we see who have eloquent tongues to plead upon every other theme “save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

p. 78
With such the firm searching old truth that “unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required:” has become obsolete in its practical power. If such persons are admonished of their duty, they tell us they have no talents for the work. They are abundantly qualified for every thing else in life, whether business, or pleasure, or intellectual pursuits; but no talent to assert the claims of a loving dying Redeemer; or to tell the guilty sinner that the wicked “shall go away into everlasting punishment.” The great difficulty with such persons does not lie in the head, but in the heart. God's requirement is “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest.”

      We are further required to devote our time to the service of God. Time, “the stuff that life is made of.” is not given to cultivate worldliness and indifference; but for noble, intense, sanctified action. Like our Divine Exemplar, we are required to go “about doing good.” If the priceless necessities of our race and our personal obligations to the service of God were realized, how much more time would be spent in earnest acts and words, to direct the erring soul in the way of life. A christian, indolent in spiritual things, will plead now as in the days of Israel's prophet, “the time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built.” They were unwilling to devote their time and substance in erecting the Lord's house; hence the reproving interrogation - “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste? Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it.” A far more precious and responsible trust, is committed to the followers of Jesus, in rearing a spiritual temple, in which he will take pleasure, and beautify with his own glory. Is the requisite time

p. 79
given to this great work If the closets and family altars, where the morning and evening sacrifice ought to be offered, could speak; would they not often tell of duties hastily performed, of closets deserted and desolate altars. But leaving these more private religious duties, let us enter the sanctuary at the appointed hour for the weekly prayer meeting, and in too many instances what do we witness? Here and there among the almost deserted seats, we see an earnest disciple with tearful eyes, pleading for the salvation of dying men. But where are the many who profess to be redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and living to His glory? Some are in the quiet retreat of their own homes; others are engrossed in the pursuit of pleasure or wealth. Many of these may experience an occasional twinge of conscience, as they think of neglected duties and deserted privileges. Yet each is vainly busy in forming some excuse to justify the neglect of covenant obligations voluntarily entered into before God, angels and men. Often are they heard to say “I have not time.” Time enough for every thing worldly, but no time for self-dedication, or to meet and pray for souls in danger of eternal ruin; even though the duty is enforced by Divine command. These persons once said, and perhaps felt,

“I love my God with zeal so great,
That I will give Him all.”

      When they had first a sense of pardon, they loved the prayer meeting and spoke of joys unearthly in its services. If they listened to the word of life, it was sweeter to them “than honey and the honey comb.” They exclaimed “I was glad when they said unto me let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates O Jerusalem.” What has made this sad

p. 80
change, except worldliness, which like a canker has eaten away the spirit of devotion, until there is little more than the form of godliness remaining. It is heart-rending to see the more worldly, scrambling for earth's imaginary good, regardless of the offer of “a crown of life;” but much more are we surprised to see the recipient of that crown tarnish its lustre, by the degrading influence of a worldly service. Well has it been asked

“Why all this toil for triumphs of an hour?
What though we wade in wealth or soar in fame,
Earth's brightest station ends in “here he lies,”
And dust to dust concludes her noblest song.”

      Our possessions should also be devoted to the service of God. Wealth is ever a powerful instrument either for good or evil. Whether we possess much or little the inquiry should be; how can this talent be used, so as more fully to promote the glory of God, and the good of man? When “houses, herds, flocks, silver and gold,” increased among the Jews, God in mercy cautioned them lest by that means their “heart be lifted up, and they forget the Lord their God.” To devote our wealth to the promotion of true religion, is equally a duty and a privilege. But is the great mass of wealth, now in the hands of the people of God, consecrated to His service? The aggregate amount given for the home and foreign fields of Christian effort, when averaged upon each professed disciple of Jesus, is reckoned by cents not by dollars, as it might and ought to be. The New Testament plan of beneficence, has two peculiarities. One is a stated period of giving - “upon the first day of the week,” - and the other is that we “lay by in store as the Lord hath prospered us.” Systematic action is essential to success in every wise undertaking. In beneficence it has three great advantages. Namely: Giving with ease –

p. 81
giving an increased amount, and schooling the heart to act from principle. The amount given should be “as the Lord hath prospered us.” A rule of equal bearing upon the princely merchant, and the humble peasant. The practical operation of this rule would require one person to give one-twentieth of his income, another one-tenth, another one-half, and another seven-eighths - “as the Lord hath prospered us.” A large part of what is given for the spread of the Gospel, comes from a comparatively few, whilst others entrusted with equal means, give but a scanty pittance of what duty demands. Leaving the ranks of those who are blessed with great wealth, how many thousands are to be found, who are the good livers of the land, having ten or fifteen thousand dollars of wealth, who do little or nothing with their means, to send the Gospel to the perishing. This withholding from the treasury of the Lord is not the result of ignorance of the need of giving, for they know millions are famishing for the Word of Life; but of “covetousness which is idolatry.” What saith the Scripture? “Whoso hath this world's good and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” Again we read, “your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and they shall eat your flesh as fire.” What a contrast to all this when Jesus shall say to his disciples, “Inasmuch as ye did it to one of the least of these ye did it unto me.”

      The spirit of devotion may be increasingly maintained by a thorough self-examination. If we would be benefitted in the highest degree in searching our hearts, let us not be intent on every bright feature of our religious character and actions; but search for our defects, that we may be driven the more earnestly to seek Divine illumination. Paul charges the Corinthians, “examine

p. 82
yourselves whether ye be in the faith, prove your own selves.” It not unfrequently requires fervent prayer and strict observation to ascertain whether our religious feelings flow from a work of grace upon the heart, or are the result of spurious excitement. The more intense any spurious agitation, the more terrible its effects. The effect of a false, terrific excitement upon the soul, is like the withering, searing lightning upon the forest oak. Every such impression places the subject of it further from truth and heaven. Grapes are not the fruit of thorns, nor figs of thistles. Neither is devotion to God the production of error in doctrine or feeling. Paul examined himself, and the result was this. He says, “I keep under my body and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I, myself, should be a cast-away.” A view of his danger and necessities, led him to bring everything into subjection to the will of heaven. A searching examination tears away self-righteousness, produces humility, and leads to reliance upon God alone, for all spiritual good. The disciple who the most faithfully discharges this duty, will invariably be the most devoted to the service of Christ. This prying into the secret recesses of the soul, leads to the use of the Psalmist's petition, “search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” In the performance of this duty, the soul is brought to experience a fervent conception of the love of Jesus in its salvation. In the vitalizing power of that love, the sentiment of the heart is,

“Were all the realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

p. 83
Biblical knowledge also is of inestimable value in assisting to cultivate a devotional spirit. The religion of the Bible is the application of its truths to the heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. So far as we embrace error we mar the symmetry of our christian character. The Lord is a God of truth, and every one devoted to His service must know, love, and obey the truth. The Savior recognizes this principle in his prayer for his followers, “Sanctify them through Thy truth, Thy word is truth.” Devotion to Christ is the conformity of the heart and life to His teaching. The doctrines of the cross more than indicate the path of duty, they are adapted to govern the will and the affections. Take away the good old doctrines of grace, and we have no foundation for devotion. In looking at the condition of our churches, we are painfully constrained to believe that the importance of just and clear views of christian doctrine is not properly realized by very many. Every scripture truth is a Divine communication to the soul. Consecration to the Divine will is the invariable result of sanctified knowledge. We have seen christians when almost ready to receive “a crown of life,” and we loved their spirit and character beyond expression.

      When we listened to their conversation or prayers, we readily discovered that they had been taught “as the truth is in Jesus,” and this was the foundation of all that was so lovely in them. If all the followers of Christ would more prayerfully study the doctrines of salvation, their devotion and moral power would be increased many fold. Do we not frequently find a sickly sentimentalism upon this subject? We often hear persons saying “no matter what you believe if your heart is right.” Virtually teaching that the truth published by Jesus, and confirmed by His death, is of no account! Well would it be if such would remember that the head and heart are near

p. 84
neighbors, and very much alike in character. Be assured, brethren, neither ignorance, nor indifference, nor bigotry, will ever usher in the millenium. The prophet Zechariah speaks of a time when even upon the bells of the horses shall be inscribed, “HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD.” Isaiah, however, in speaking of that period, informs us, that “the watchmen shall see eye to eye.” Habakkuk declares “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” Brethren may God help us to love our Bibles more.

“The mines of earth no treasures give That could this volume buy: In teaching us the way to live, It teaches how to die.”

      Communion with God in prayer more directly than all other means, will incline us to a full dedication to His service. In prayer, the soul enjoys a precious interchange of views and emotions with the Holy One. There we come to an infinite fountain of good. The apostle could say to his brethren, “my God shall supply all your need, according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” However frequent the demand, the resources of grace are never lessened. Hence the commands, “pray always, pray without ceasing. In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” If our prayers availed much, a throne of grace would be the most precious place of resort to our souls; for it is invested with all the holy attractions an infinite mind can throw around it. The weary and heavy-laden here find relief from all their sorrows. Heaven never seems so near, or earth of so little worth, as when the soul is absorbed in spiritual worship. Prayer will loosen our grasp upon the world, and lead us to devote every attainment to the glory of

p. 85
God, There is more power in prayer than we have yet learned. We have need to come to Jesus like the disciples of old, and say, “Lord teach us to pray.” The efficacy of prayer is not limited by the feeble powers of the supplicant, for it unites the creature with the Creator. Jesus is the “new and living way,” and the indwelling Spirit, the inditer of all genuine supplication; for “the Spirit helpeth our infirmities - the Spirit maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” The Pauls and the Marys of all ages have “sat at Jesus’ feet.” The language of their hearts has been “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Nothing else can occupy the place of prayer in the churches. We may rear beautiful and costly temples, with all the grandeur and symmetry of architectural skill; but if there is not effectual prayer in the pulpit and in the pews; yea, if there are not wrestling Jacobs in the room for prayer, better, far better, if the materials of such edifices were returned to the quarries and forests whence they were brought. Jesus taught us the duty of prayer by example as well as precept. “A great while before day he went out and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.” Again it is written, “he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.”

      The historical aspect of this subject teaches the necessity of unreserved devotion to God. Those who have possessed most of this spirit, have been signally honored of God, in leading souls to Christ. They sowed abundantly and reaped accordingly. Before they called God answered; and while they were yet speaking He heard. Preceding and during the Pentecostal revival, the disciples “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication,” and “sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” If christians were equally dedicated to the cause of Christ,

p. 86
now would not their labors be as richly blessed? Brethren the past and present unite in the cry, “it is high time to awake out of sleep.” God is more willing to give his Spirit to those that ask for it, than earthly parents are to give good gifts unto their children. The Spirit is the efficient agent of good to the souls of men. Vigor, strength and singleness of purpose, are the fruit of the Spirit. We need consecration, faith, and self. denial in the cause of Christ. God has said, “be not weary in well-doing, for in due season ye shall reap, if ye faint not.” “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house; and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” To each disciple God is saying, “go work to-day in my vineyard.” “Let him know that he who converteth the sinner from the error of his ways, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” We are surrounded by multitudes who must ever suffer the pangs of a living death, unless saved from sin. Shall we not make every effort to rescue them from “going down to the pit?” Soon they will be beyond our reach, and lost forever. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” Brethren the vows

“Of God are on us, and we may not stop
To play with shadows, or pluck earthly flowers,
Till we our work have done, and rendered up

      Beloved, what we do must be done quickly, for our voices will soon be hushed in the silence of the tomb. Death is annually removing numbers from our ranks, and doubtless before the return of another anniversary,

p. 87
some of us will be summoned to our reward. May God nerve us then for the stern realities of Christian life, that neglected duties and broken vows may no longer cry to heaven against us.

“And if we should reach heaven -
If we that have so deeply, darkly sinned -
If we whom ruin and revolt have held
With such a fearful grasp - if we for whom
tSatan has struggled as he hath for us,
Should ever reach that blissful shore, oh, how
These hearts will flame with gratitude and love!
And through the ages of eternal years,
Thus saved, our spirits never shall repent
That toil and suffering were ours below.”


[From Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1857, pp. 75-87. From U. Of Chicago digital on-line file. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More Pennsylvania Baptist Circulars
Baptist History Homepage