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but still casting himself as a contrite sinner on the forgiving grace of God. It is a lamentable history, tending to show how low one may fall, who has to all appearance known the truth, and fearfully manifesting the melancholy consequence of religious apostacy.
Who cannot recall some such cases of gross inconsistency, at least, little progress, little usefulness ? But it is of the greatest moment to us to be impressed with the conviction that such declension is, at any stage of our christian course, possible for ourselves. Let no man say, “My principles are so firmly consolidated, my love to Christ is so strong, my appreciation of the pleasures of religion is so high, that it is all but impossible for me to fall." Let no man say, without the most careful selfexamination, “There are no symptoms of declension now." As we look around us on the temptations by which we are assailed; as we think of the natural proneness of the heart to sin; as we think, besides, of those who have fallen, there may well be produced in our minds the spirit of deep humility and of trembling fear. Our wisdom is, not to say with Peter
, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I;" but rather to say with the Psalmist, “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.”
We are familiar enough with the principal indications of enfeebled bodily health. If, for instance, the appetite fail; if there be a lowered or a quickened pulse ; if there come over us a feeling of depression for which we cannot account, even though there should be no actual suffering, we conclude that all is not right. And so there are marks of lowered spiritual health, a few of which may be pointed out. The food of the soul is truth, the truth of the Bible. There can be no real spiritual growth, except as the truth is understood, believed, and thus turned or converted into the moral aliment of the soul. The neglect of it is sure to issue in the decline of the spiritual life; nay more, that neglect is a proof that declension has actually begun. Do we then love the word of God ? do we prize it as we once prized it? do we read it statedly, with deep interest, with the earnest desire to know its principles, and with the determination, by God's grace, to be and to do whatever it requires ? If not, there is reason to fear that declension has commenced. Another indication of a lowered tone of spirituality is to be found in the neglect of private prayer. A recent convert from heathenism, in one of the wilds of Africa, one day expressed her fears to a friend, that all was not well; and on being, with some expression of annoyance, asked the reason of her apprehension, she replied she had noticed that “ The path to the bush was overgrown with grass."
The closet of the poor African was the bush ; and that the path to. it was untrodden was the token to her kind and watchful friend that prayer had been neglected. It was a touching indication of christian solicitude and faithfulness; and at the same time it showed the correct sense entertained by her, who offered the expostulation, of the indispensable necessity of prayer. And further, we might observe, that if there be a diminished interest in the social and public exercises of religion ; if there be a distaste for that reading and that preaching which deal faithfully with the conscience; if sin be committed with a feeling of lessened compunction, and excuses for it are more eagerly sought, and permitted more easily to satisfy the conscience; these are signs that it is no longer as it ought to be, and that the fervour of christian piety is greatly diminished.. And just as a man would say, who had discovered in himself the symptoms of an alarming disorder, “I must take this in time, or there is no knowing what may be the result;' so the Christian should say, who discovers; in himself the signs of spiritual declension, “ I must guard against further decline, and endeavour to recover the ground I have lost, or the consequences may be most terrible.” These have many a time proved the incipient symptoms of a Laodicean lukewarmness, on which a loving yet justly offended Saviour has looked with grief and displeasure; and they have too often proved the first steps of a downward course, at the bottom of which was an appalling gulf of guilt and shame.
It was said of old by Solomon, " The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways,” Prov. xiv. 14. If the backsliding be only in heart, and there have been no open manifestation of it in the life, still it involves consequences which are deeply. to be deplored. To lose the approval of a good conscience, and the persuasion of the divine approval ; to experience no longer that freshness of feeling, which the soul once brought to the exercises of religion, and to find that the joy of salvation is lost; all this is no slight privation, even though the man may be scarcely sensible of its greatness. This may be all. Though the vitality of the religious life has gone, men are often kept by various influences from gross transgression ; still, when religious principle has lost its power, there is no security, The man may stand, but the great safeguard is gone. But, suppose that the barrier has been thrown down, and that in an unguarded moment he has committed some heinous sin, or that he has yielded to the habitual indulgence of some vice, of the exposure of which he is in daily fear; that fear perpetually haunting him, to say nothing of the stings of an evil conscience,
THE ENGLISH MONTHLY TRACT SOCIETY, 27, RED LION SQUARE, LONDON.
is no small punishment. But suppose the sin, as in the case which has been mentioned, revealed to the world, the punishment then comes in degradation and shame; and in some cases there follows, what is worse than all, the loss of everything like right feeling, and he ceases to be ashamed. Imagine him restored. How bitter the anguish of his broken heart! How low the depths from which David cries, and how piteous the moans which he utters—moans which pierce our very souls as he thinks of the God whom he has offended, the vows he has broken, and the injury he has done to the truth ! Even the consciousness of pardon does not altogether heal the wound; but many a time it rankles in the penitent's bosom for life, and embitters even his latest hours. How often has the threat, which God addressed to Israel; been fulfilled,—“Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy bạckslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God !” Jer. ii. 19.
And whilst we think of those consequences of declension and apostacy which are experienced by the man himself, we ought also to ponder those which affect others. Scarcely anything we do terminates with ourselves. We are ever exerting an influence which, though felt, would be very unwillingly acknow, ledged. Our characters are marked, and our conduct is watchtully observed; and it is beyond a question that what is evil in our example is always more powerful than what is good. Let us look, then, at the evil influence of the inconsistent professor, We will suppose the case of such a man committing a series of what might be called minor inconsistencies, indulging in pleasures which are at least doubtful, pressing to the very verge of propriety, and sometimes crossing it; doing the world's business in the keenest spirit of the world, and taking but little interest in what concerns the advancement of religion, What is the influence of that man on men of the world? Certainly not to elevate the tone of their respect either for Christianity itself or those who profess it. What is his influence in the church ? To dishearten those who are solicitous for the advancement of the truth ; to draw bitter tears from those who hoped, better things; to lower the standard of christian profession ; and to make those, who are rising up in the church, think very lightly indeed of its obligations. And who shall tell the injury, which is done by the actual fall of one who has stood before the world as a Christian ? Are not the reproaches of those who have taunted us with such falls still ringing in our ears-the reproaches of those who are willing enough to lose sight of all that is beautiful in christian consistency in ten thousand instances elsewhere? Who has not been reminded of the sins of men who have long since gone to their account? of the sins of those whom he knows to have repented ? and reminded of them as the proof, if not that religion itself
was a lie, at least that religious profession was a mockery? It ought to be a powerful reason for constant, humble watchfulness, that if we fall we shall point the witling and the scoffer's sneer, and cause “the enemies of the Lord greatly to blaspheme."
How carefully, then, should we guard against declension and inconsistency; and how anxiously should we avoid those influences which tend to lower the tone of our spiritual life ! And yet how many are those influences, and how varied! The very blessings of God's exuberant bounty, the blessings of an increasing worldly prosperity, have been often so perverted, that they have become the occasions of spiritual decline. It is no uncommon thing to see those who, when they were struggling with difficulty, and possessed of but limited worldly means, were all that could be desired, when raised in worldly position, losing the simple fervour of their piety, and degenerating into a cold formality, if not into positive inconsistency. “What, then,” the prosperous Christian may ask, “am I to do ? Am I to guard against prosperity; and like some of those religious orders of which I have read in ecclesiastical history, bind myself by vow to perpetual poverty ?” No; certainly not. Prosperity is God's gift, to be sought by diligent endeavours, and, where granted, to be thankfully enjoyed. But we must guard against its seduetions; against the spirit of absorbing worldliness which it often brings with it; against the tendency to selfindulgence and ease which it sometimes induces; and against those enjoyments and pleasures which it puts in the power of its possessor, lest they completely steal away the heart. It was an appropriate caution which God addressed to Israel of old, “ When thou shalt have eaten and be full; then beware lest thou forget the Lord,” Deut. vi. 11, 12. There may be company, which, however pleasant, we cannot enjoy without being conscious of a diminished interest in those things which are confessedly of the highest moment. Even though it were the most fascinating society in the world, it ought to be avoided. If, on leaving such society, we always found that we had been robbed of some portion of personal property, however much we had enjoyed it, we should say, "I will seek it no longer !” should we not much more say so, when we find ourselves robbed of that which is beyond all comparison more precious than all the wealth of the world ? There may be books, which we cannot read without the unsettlement of our principles, or without the suggestion of thoughts and desires which we know to be wrong. Is it too much to say, " Leave them unread ?”. Every man knows, or ought to know, those influences which are most likely to injure his spiritual life : and just as we should avoid exposure to a keen and biting east wind, if we could not face it without danger-just as we should avoid the atmosphere impregnated with the seeds of pestilence, should we avoid those influences, whatever they may be, which militate against the prosperity of the soul. And yet all this is only negative. We best consolidate our physical health when, whilst we avoid those influences which are calculated to injure it, we exercise our limbs, and breathe the pure air of heaven, and partake of such food as we know from experience is best adapted to nourish us. And so, if we would guard against spiritual feebleness and decay, we must ever seek for spiritual growth and maturity; we must endeavour to “grow up into Him, who is the head, in all things;" we must "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ;" we must come to the great source of spiritual advancement, the Bible, making it the book of our daily meditation; we must draw very near to God in prayer, and continually seek from him the supply of the spirit of grace; and prizing the sanctuary with its privileges, we must not “forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.” It is after an exhortation, to give all diligence, that we may add to our faith virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity, that the apostle Peter says, “For if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ," 2 Pet. i. 5-11.
Possibly, beloved reader, you may feel that you have been, and are now, the subject of such spiritual declension as we have described. As you call to mind the time when you first came to the cross, and think of your love for the Bible, of your delight in prayer, of the heartiness and zeal with which you applied yourself to those works of christian usefulness in which you had the opportunity of engaging, you cannot but be conscious that a sad change has come over you-a change which cannot be accounted for, either by advancing years, or by altered circumstances. Perhaps you may have descended still lower, and have dishonoured your Lord by grievous and open transgression. You can hardly bear to think of that time, when all was so joyous and so bright; but when you do think of it, you sigh in bitter regret, and exclaim, “Oh, that it were with me