The Philadelphia Baptist Association to the Churches of which it is composed:
DEAR BRETHREN, - The peculiarity of every Christian consists in his spiritual life. “You hath he quickened,” says the apostle, “who were dead in trespasses and sins.” The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus makes free from the law of sin and death. The Christian Church wants more of the power of the Spirit of life. It is only in the enjoyment of this power that Christians can live; it is only as they feel and enjoy its influences, that the “well of water”. in their hearts springs up into life everlasting. Now, “this life is not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” It is the production of the Holy Spirit, and is also sustained by him. But life is susceptible of growth. The life of the babe is the same in kind, though not in degree, as that of the man; and among those who have reached maturity, the pulse beats stronger in some than in others.
In regeneration the same spiritual life is begun in all, but different degrees of growth and vigor are subsequently presented, as the result of being more or less filled with the Spirit of God. There was life in the disciples before the ascension of Christ, but how was it invigorated when the Holy Spirit descended upon them on the day of Pentecost But experience proves that it is possible to lose the freshness and vigor of spiritual life. There have been periods of the Church's history when her lukewarmness and apathy have appeared in striking contrast to the activity and energy of the world, and who can observe the powerful outworking of life in business, science, and literature in the present day, without feeling that it stands forth in prominent contrast to the intermittent and languid indications of life in the church?
Permit us, then, in this annual epistle to the churches, to call your attention to a few thoughts with reference to THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER FOR THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE UPON THE CHURCHES.
Man possesses no inherent power, yet he deludes himself with the idea of self-resource. Hence the notion that renovation must arise
from the welling up of life from the depths of our nature; and also the idea that ecclesiastical arrangements and external ordinances will meet the case. But what are organizations, church governments, church discipline, and church forms, if there be not the sap of spiritual life underneath them 2 Apart from this power of the Spirit of Life upon the living membership of our churches, mere outward forms and human instrumentalities would be only “like painting and garnishing mimic forest trees in a box of toys.”
But this Power of the Spirit of Life in the members of Christ's church is graciously promised. Christ was the great promise of the Old Testament; Power is the great promise of the New. The Holy Spirit is pledged to the church. There is really nothing upon which the heart of God is so much set as that of giving the Holy Spirit. “If ye then being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.” The Spirit delights to work mightily in the souls of men, that the weak may be as David, and David as the angel of the Lord. But in order to enjoy this blessing, the churches of Jesus Christ have a solemn duty to perform. When Christ had risen from the dead, and was about to ascend to his throne, having spoken to his disciples of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, he said to them, “Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with the power from on high.” They had a little strength, but not enough for the work which would be required from them; and hence they were to tarry at Jerusalem, in prayerfulness and expectation, till they should receive a larger dispensation of the Spirit of grace.
The manner of their waiting is exceedingly instructive. They waited in the fitting attitude. What union, what sacrifice, what self-denial, what effort and perseverance, as for days they continued in supplication! And thus, as servants of the same ascended Lord, must we tarry now. Until we, as Christians, engage in earnest and believing prayer for the Power of the Spirit of Life, we shall continue to want it in all its fulness and heavenly influence. We should pray for this,
1. Because the Power of the Spirit of Life will promote Holiness in the hearts of Christ's followers. We take for granted you believe that however evangelical are the doctrines, and scriptural the discipline, unless the churches are pervaded by “pure and undefiled religion” they are thoroughly wrong, that just in proportion as they advance in purity will they advance in assimilation to God, and answer the design of the Redeemer's death, “who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” It would be needless to prove that holiness is the result of prayer, and that where this Power of the Spirit of Life is, it must exist. Assimilation is a universal law of both physics and mind. It is by the operations of this law we partake of the character and sentiments of those with whom we associate. Impure desires are fostered and evil habits strengthened by the mutual intercourse of the wicked. Holy desires
are cherished and holy habits strengthened by the communion of saints.
The experiences of God's children bear witness to the veracity of these things. In the prayer meetings, have there not been seasons when we were convinced, either by a brother's fervent wrestling with God, or by the spirituality of his conversation, that he was far in advance of ourselves? And have we not, impelled either by a holy shame or a holy ambition, made firmer resolves than ever, to aspire to greater conformity to the Divine character? The purity of a praying church is visible to the world. It is exemplified in the lives of its members. Wherever they go a halo of brightness encircles their brow. As the ungodly approach them, they approach with awe. They tread softly. The conviction presses on their minds, “these men are what they profess to be.” Such Christians, by the carnal and ungodly, may be stigmatized as enthusiasts; but they dare not, they cannot brand them as hypocrites.
2. The Power of the Spirit of Life will promote the Union of the Churches. Union in our churches adds to their beauty and strength. “Behold how good and how pleasant a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” When the inspired Apostle Paul enjoins the Philippian church to defend the truth, he exhorts them to stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together. A Spartan king was once asked why Sparta was unwalled. “The union of the citizens,” said he, “is its strength.” Every church alive to its responsibility and welfare, feels the necessity of union. For the securing of it, prayer, and prayer meetings are indispensable. By their vigorous maintenance the churches form themselves into a phalanx, which no foe can break; by their neglect they become as the mountain dust, or the desert sand, the sport of every fitful breeze.
It is a law of mind to confide in those who feel and think as we do - whose sorrows and hopes are in unison with our own; and it is also a law of mind to unite with those in whom we confide. When Christians meet for prayer, brethren meet brethren; men of similar sorrows, and feelings, and hopes. If there is any one place on God's footstool, holier and purer than another, it is the prayer circle. There a Christian meets a brother, and they are united in the bonds of heavenly union. As the result of their faith, and love, and prayers, a holy influence attracts them to one common centre; uniting them to each other in Jesus Christ. As season after season Christians and churches unite their petitions at the throne of mercy, to express common wants - mourn common guilt - breathe common affections - and prepare for a common home, they rally around the cross; and as they succeed one another in humble prayer to the skies, the streams of Christian affection flow into one common channel—the sparks of fraternal love struck from each individual heart are kindled into a common flame, and “all are members one of another.” They are bound by a moral tie the most spiritual, they bear a family likeness the most perfect, and have a common interest in one hope, the most sublime!
3. This Power of the Spirit of Life, associated with earnest prayer, will eminently promote the zeal and efficiency of the churches. The moment the members of a church begin prayer, they begin labor, and both will ensure them as much of the Power of the Spirit of Life, as they have of the feeling and power of believing prayer. Then, see how prayer produces gratitude, and how gratitude terminates in effort. A church meets to pray for more piety, for an increase of this holy power, and the influences of the Divine Spirit. Their prayers are speedily answered. God sheds abroad his love in their hearts, expands their views, excites their gratitude and benevolence; and they feel as Paul felt when he exclaimed, “The love of Christ constraineth us.” They feel their great indebtedness, and as a proof of their gratitude labor for Christ. They are imbued with his spirit - possess his mind; - that mind was pregnant with holy exertion - burned with irrepressible zeal and inextinguishable ardor - these qualities distinguished his wonderful life - yes, pre-eminently marked his death. That death was the result of an extraordinary effort. An effort on the part of all that is holy to subjugate all that is vile; an effort on the part of all that is happy to annihilate all that is miserable - an effort to regain a rebel world to loyalty, and to raise it from deepest degradation to the sublime height of heavenly blessedness. We ask, where are these feelings of holy and heavenly zeal and of Christ-like benevolence mostly felt? Where is the holy fire enkindled! It is with the saints of God in the places where they assemble for prayer and praise. There they kneel before the throne of grace. Around that throne their hearts have glowed with the Saviour's bleeding love, and solemn vows were made! And now they hasten to their fulfillment. Their motto is, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” Brethren, do we emulate the zeal of the first Christians? Are we as willing as they were to enter the battle-field, and contend against the enemies of invincible truth?
4. This Power, united with earnest Prayer, will eminently promote the increase of our churches. Churches are planted for the same purpose as seed is sown. Their great object is increase. They have within themselves the elements of expansion. If no converts enter the Church, the end of its existence is comparatively lost. The close connection of prayer with success in the kingdom of Christ, is a prominent feature of God's government. He does not enjoin prayer because he cannot convert sinners apart from it. He is omnipotent in might, and immutable in purpose; yet he has decreed that prayer shall be associated with the accomplishment of his purposes of grace, just as much as he has decreed the labor of man and the ordinances of heaven, in their seasons, for producing the fruits of the earth. He does not teach us to add members to a church without prayer. When we see conversions in our churches, we may know assuredly that there has been prayer | Prayer is the precursor of spiritual life and spiritual increase When the churches shall unite in prayer for more holy power and love for the salvation of souls, then we may expect that Zion will “enlarge the place of her tent, and stretch forth
the curtains of her habitation.” If meetings for united supplication were more numerous, revivals of religion would be more frequent. Thousands of converted men and women would be welcomed to the fold of the Great Shepherd. If all the churches within the bounds of this venerable Association had labored and prayed more generally and fervently, from how many homes, where sin and infidelity abound, would songs of “joy and gladness” melodiously ascend to the eternal throne! What poetry has sung, facts would exhibit:
“The dwellers in the vales, and on the rocks,
Shout to each other: and mountain tops
From distant mountains catch the flying joy.”
Brethren, The Mission of the Church must be more seriously pondered. Our individual mission must be more seriously regarded. No Christian man will be aroused to the highest earnestness of his nature who does not comprehend his work! It is the inspiration of high purposes which sets the soul on fire, and strengthens the arm for decisive and valorous deeds. Our opportunities to labor in the vineyard of Christ will soon terminate! There will soon come a time when we can labor no longer to save priceless souls. We shall soon cease to work for Christ. The last sermon will soon be preached, the last contribution given, and the last prayer offered! “The time is short " It may end at any moment. Next week some of us may be in the eternal world. The next money expended from our income, may be paid to buy our coffins, or to dig our graves. These opportunities will soon close forever! Oh, if they could be renewed after we have seen our folly and neglect; - if a million of ages would afford us once more the opportunity of saving souls - but no! that time will never come: The opportunities now lost, will be lost forever! Oh, Christians, let us ponder this weighty truth, then shall we feel the so importance of praying for more of the Power of the Spirit of Life, and by watchfulness and prayer, we shall assuredly attain to a higher standard of piety and Christian zeal.
Brethren, if we are to raise the world into a high and holy region, we must be above the world ourselves. We can only legitimately calculate upon lifting the world to that elevation which we ourselves have reached. If, then, we are to prove efficient for the salvation of the lost around us, our faith must be strong, our love must be fervent, our peace must be as a river, and our righteousness as the waves of the sea. What we now need, is, more earnest prayer. The efficacy of prayer is attested by the experience of every Christian; but how low and unworthy is the estimate we form of its powers We need to prove God in prayer. Let us, as the faithful followers of the Lamb, strike hands o in a hallowed covenant, and cry before God with a strong faith, “We will not let thee go except thou bless us. For Zion's sake we will not hold our peace and for Jerusalem's sake we will not rest;” and then we may expect to “be endued with power from on high.” Oh, Holy Spirit! source of light and power, breathe celestial energy into into our strengthless souls! Lift us up as on eagle's pinions, to the holy, the heavenly, the divine! Oh, come and endue us with power from on high.
“Descend, thou emblematic Dove,
And with thee bring immortal love;
The only point of unity
For all the church - is CALVARY!”
[From Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1865, pp. 29-33. From U. of Chicago digital on-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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