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above all seek the converse of those christians, whose progress in religion seems most remarkable, and who adorn their profession in the most amiable manner. Labour to obtain their temper and sentiments, and lay open your case and your heart to them, with all the freedom which prudence will permit. Employ yourself at seasons of leisure, in reading practical and devotional books, in which the mind and heart of the pious author is transfused into the work, and in which you can (as it were) taste the genuine spirit of christianity. And to conclude, take the first opportunity that presents, of making an approach to the table of the Lord, and spare neither time, nor pains, in the most serious preparation for it. There renew your covenant with God; put your soul anew into the hand of Christ, and endeavour to view the wonders of his dying love, in such a manner as may rekindle the languishing flame, and quicken you to more vigorous resolutions than ever, to live unto him who died for you*. And watch over your own heart, that the good impressions you then feel, may continue. Rest not, till you have obtained as confirmed a state in religion, as you ever knew. Rest not, till you have made a greater progress than before: for it is certain, more is yet behind; and it is only by a zeal to go forwards, that you can be secure from the danger of going backward, and revolting
more and more.
§. 12. I only add, that it is necessary to take these precautions as soon as possible; or you will probably find a much swifter progress than you are aware in the down-hill road; and you may possibly be left of God, to fall into some gross and aggravated sin, so as to fill your consciences with an agony and horror, which the pain of broken bonest, can but imperfectly
A Prayer for one under spiritual Decays.
"ETERNAL and unchangeable Jehovah! Thy perfections and glories are like thy being, immutable. Jesus thy Son is the same yesterday, to-day, and for evert. The eternal world to which I am hastening, is always equally important, and presses upon the attentive mind for a more fixed and solemn regard, in proportion to the degree in which it comes nearer and nearer. But alas, my views, and my affections, and my best resolutions are continually varying, like this poor body, which goes through daily and hourly alterations in its state and circumstances. Whence, O Lord, whence this sad change
2 Cor. v. 15.
† Psal. li. 8.
Heb. xiii. 8.
which I now experience, in the frame and temper of my mind towards thee? Whence this alienation of my soul from thee? Why can I not come to thee with all the endearments of filial love, as I once could? Why is thy service so remissly attended, if attended at all? And why are the exercises of it, which were once my greatest pleasure, become a burden to me? Where, O God is the blessing I once spake of*, when my joy in thee as my heavenly Father, was so conspicuous, that strangers might have observed it, and when my heart did so overflow with love to thee, and with zeal for thy service, that it was matter of self-denial to me, to limit and restrain the genuine expressions of these strong emotions of my soul, even where prudence and duty require it?
Alas, Lord, whither am I fallen! Thine eye sees me still; but Oh how unlike what it once saw me! Cold and insensible as I am, I must blush on the reflection.-Thou seest me in secrett, and seest me perhaps, often amusing myself with trifles, in those seasons, which I used solemnly to devote to thine immediate service. Thou seest me coming into thy presence as by constraint; and when I am before thee, so straitened in my spirit, that I hardly know what to say to thee, though thou art the God with whom I have to do; and though the keeping up an humble and dutiful correspondence with thee, is beyond all comparison the most important business of my life. And even when I am speaking to thee, with how much coldness and formality is it? It is perhaps the work of the imagination, the labour of the lips: but where are those ardent desires, those intense breathings after God, which I once felt? Where is that pleasing repose in thee, which I was once conscious of, as being near my divine rest, as being happy in that nearness, and resolving that if possible, I would no more be removed from it? But Oh, how far am I removed? When these short devotions, if they may be called devotions, are over, in what long intervals do I forget thee, and appear so little animated with thy love, so little devoted to thy service, that a stranger might converse with me a considerable time, without knowing that I had ever formed any acquaintance with thee, without discovering that I had so much as known or heard any thing of God? Thou callest me to thine house, O Lord, on thine own day; but how heartless are my services there? I offer thee no more than a carcase. My thoughts and affections are engrossed with other objects, while I draw near thee with my mouth, and honour thee
Gal. iv. 15.
+ Mat. vi. 6.
with my lips. Thou callest me to thy table; but my heart is so frozen, that it hardly melts even at the foot of the cross; hardly feels any efficacy in the blood of Jesus. Oh wretched creature that I am! Unworthy of being called thine! Unworthy of a place among thy children, or of the meanest situation in thy family; rather worthy to be forsaken, yea, to be utterly destroyed!
"Is this, Lord, the service which I once promised, and which thou hast so many thousand reasons to expect? Are these the returns bam making, for thy daily providential care, for the sacrifice of thy Son, for the communications of thy spirit for the pardon of my numberless aggravated sins, for the hopes, the undeserved, and so often forfeited hopes, of eternal glory? Lord, I am ashamed to stand or to kneel before thee. But pity me, I beseech thee, and help me: for I am a pitiable object indeed; my soul cleaveth unto the dust, and lays itself as in the dust before thee; but Oh, quicken me according to thy word+! Let me trifle no longer, for I am upon the brink of a precipice! I am thinking of my ways, Oh give me grace to turn my feet unto thy testimonies; to make haste without any farther delay, that I may keep thy commandments‡! Search me O Lord, and try mes! Go to the first root of this distemper, which spreads itself over my soul; and recover me from it! Represent sin unto me, O Lord, I beseech thee, that I may see it with abhorrence! and represent the Lord Jesus Christ to me in such a light, that I may look upon him and mourn||; that I may look upon him and love! May I awaken from this stupid lethargy, into which I am sinking; and may Christ give me more abundant degrees of spiritual life and activity, than I have ever yet received! And may I be so quickened and animated by him, that I may more than recover the ground I have lost, and may make a more speedy and exemplary progress, than in my best days I have ever yet done! Send down upon me, O Lord, in a more rich and abundant effusion, thy good Spirit! May he dwell in me as in a temple which he has consecrated to himself ¶ and while all the service is directed and governed by him, may holy and acceptable sacrifices be continually offered**! May the incense be constant, and may it be fragrant! May the sacred fire burn and blaze perpetually++; and may none of its vessels ever be profaned, by being em, ployed to an unholy or forbidden use! Amen."
Isai. xxix. 13. || Zech. xii. 10.
+Psal. cxix. 25.
Psal. cxix. 59, 60. ** Rom. xii. 1,
Psal. cxxxix. 23. ††Lev. vi. 13.
The sad Case of a Relapse into known and deliberate Sin, after solemn Acts of Dedication to God, and some Progress made in Religion.
Unthought-of Relapses may happen, §. 1. and bring the Soul into a miserable Case, §. 2. Yet the Case is not desperate, §. 3. The Backslider urged immediately to return: (1.) By deep Humiliation before God for so aggravated an Offence, §. 4. (2.) By renewed Regards to the divine Mercy in Christ, §. 5. (3.) By an open Profession of Repentance, where the Crime hath given public Offence, §. 6. (4.) Falls to be reviewed for future Caution, §. 7. The Chapter concludes, §. 8. with a Prayer for the Use of one who hath fallen into gross Sins, after religious Resolutions and Engagements.
§. 1. THE declensions which I have described in the foregoing
chapter, must be acknowledged worthy of deep lamentation: but happy will you be, my dear reader, if you never know, by experience, a circumstance yet more melancholy than this. Perhaps when you consider the view of things which you now have, you imagine that no considerations can ever bribe you, in any single instance, to act contrary to the present dictates or suggestions of your conscience, and of the spirit of God as setting it on work. No: you think it would be better for you to die. And you think rightly, but Peter thought, and said so too: Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee*: and yet, after all, he fell, and therefore be not high minded but feart. It is not impossible, but you may fall into that very sin, of which you imagine you are least in danger, or into that against which you have most solemnly resolved, and of which you have already most bitterly repented. You may relapse into it again and again. But, Oh, if you do, nay, if you should deliberately and presumptuously fall but once, how deep will it pierce your heart! How dear will you pay for all the pleasure, with ́ which the temptation has been baited! How will this separate between God and you! What a desolation, what a dreadful desolation will it spread over your soul! It is grievous to think of it. Perhaps in such a state you may feel more agony and distress in your own conscience, when you come seriously to reflect, than you ever felt when you were first awakened and reclaimed; because the sin will be attended with some very
+ Rom. xi. 20.
* Mat. xxvi, 35.
high aggravations, beyond those of your unregenerate state. I well knew the person that said, "The agonies of a sinner, in the first pangs of his repentance, were not to be mentioned on the same day, with those of a backslider in heart, when he comes to be filled with his own way*.”
§. 2. Indeed it is enough to wound one's heart to think how yours will be wounded: how all your comforts, all your evidences, all your hopes will be clouded: what thick darkness will spread itself on every side, so that neither sun, nor moon, nor stars, will appear in your heaven. Your spiritual consolations will be gone; and your temporal enjoyments will also be rendered tasteless and insipid. And if afflictions be sent, as they probably may, in order to reclaim you, a consciousness of guilt will sharpen and envenom the dart. Then will the enemy of your soul with all his art and power rise up against you, enconraged by your fall, and labouring to trample you down in utter hopeless ruin. He will persuade you, that you are already undone beyond recovery. He will suggest, that it signifies nothing to attempt it any more; for that every effort, every amendment, every act of repentance, will but make your case so much the worse, and plunge you lower and lower into hell. §. 3. Thus will he endeavour by terrors to keep you from that sure remedy, which yet remains. But yield not to him. Your case will indeed be sad; and if it be now your case, it is deplorably so; and to rest in it, would be still much worse. Your heart would be hardened yet more and more; and nothing could be expected, but sudden and aggravated destruction. Yet blessed be God, it is not quite hopeless. Your wounds are corrupted, because of your foolishness+; but the gangrene is not incurable. There is balm in Gilead, there is a physician there. Do not therefore render your condition indeed hopeless, by now saying, There is no hopes, and drawing a fatal argument from that false supposition for going after the idols you have loved. Let me address you, in the language of God to his backsliding people, when they were ready to apprehend that to be their case, and to draw such a conclusion from it: Only return unto me, saith the Lord||. Cry for renewed grace; and in the strength of it labour to return. Cry with David, under the like guilt, I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant, for I do not forget thy commandments¶; and that remembrance of them is, I hope, a token for good. But if
* Prov. xiv. 14.
+ Psal. xxxviii. 5.
|| Jer. iii. 13.
Jer. viii. 22.