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feeling, suppose it which we may, is usually the precursor of ruin.
But, one infallible sign of religious declension will be found in indifference, as to the conversion of sinners and the revival of religion. Whereever there is a disposition to symbolize with unbelievers in deriding the efforts of devoted piety, (even should its plans not always be the most judicious,) it is a mournful augury. The prosperous Christian will be tenderly alive to the claims of Christ and the miseries of dying souls ; and, whatever would induce one to think lightly of either, is not according to godliness.
When once a man ceases to take a deep and lively interest in the progress of Christianity in the world, of one thing we may be certain, it has ceased to make any progress in his own soul. And the very fastidiousness which pleads prudential reasons for withholding its sanction from vigorous efforts to rescue sinners from destruction, is not unfrequently the ill concealed result of a spirit of slumber; the action of a mind but partially awakened to the claims of religion, or falling asleep again. Some excuse may perhaps be made on the ground of mental habitude ; but men, of all orders and dispositions, usually act vigorously when they feel
deeply. Whatever may be his chemical propensities, the philosopher, who believes that his house is on fire, will hardly wait to analyze the water which may quench the flames. And where the salvation of souls is at stake, excessive caution is a poor apology for the lack of promptitude.
It is necessary, however, to observe, that there may
a very large amount of sectarian zeal, where compassion for souls, in its best and highest form, has utterly decayed. We may be exceedingly anxious to prevail on others to worship as we worship, and where we worship, after we ourselves have ceased to worship “in spirit and in truth.” Indeed, sectarian zeal is often found in inverse proportion to genuine piety; and many, without the shadow of a pretence to experimental religion, have shown a zeal for God, which, had it been according to knowledge, would have worn a far different aspect, and have produced far different results. Such was the case with the scribes and Pharisees, the hypocrites denounced by our Lord, as compassing sea and land to make one proselyte, and then, finishing the matter by making him twofold more the child of hell than themselves, Matt. xxiii. 15.
Impatience of rebuke is generally a symptom of religious declension which marks the whole of its progress, but more especially its closing stages. Faithfulness will first be disrelished, then disliked, and at last detested. The consistent Christian is always thankful for admonition. Jealous of himself, with a godly jealousy, and aware how difficult it is for a man to understand his errors, he will say“Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness; and let him reprove me, it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head," Psalm cxli. 5. These are views and feelings with which the backslider has little sympathy. I have even heard one boast that, for his part, he would take reproof from no
Some glaring act of inconsistency will usually, at length, reveal to the public the mischief which was previously concealed from observation. That which was spoken in darkness is heard in the light, and that which was spoken in the ear in closets is proclaimed upon the housetops, Luke xii. 3. The friends of truth and holiness will first be at a loss to reconcile, with conduct observable by all, a profession which denied ungodliness and worldly lusts ; and, at length, they will abandon the attempt as hopeless.
Offence being taken at some remonstrance, or monition of better days, it is not improbable that the next indication, of a downward course, will be the occasional, or perhaps the entire neglect of public worship.
When the sanctuary is forsaken, a return to the world will be an easy step, which perhaps some yet more notorious departure from godliness may abundantly facilitate. The men of the world, for the most part, have no very hard notions of delinquency, except when the mischief relates to the affairs of this life, or in some way affects themselves.
A man may utterly dishonour his religious profession, and for that very reason be the more welcome in
His presence will enable them to raise a louder laugh at all those pretensions to religion which take a higher range than the selfishness of mere earthly morality.
The remaining stages in the path to death, are few and easily taken. The man who stands in the way of sinners, will soon walk in the counsel of the ungodly, and finally sit in the seat of the scornful. But this is a subject which belongs rather to the consequences than to the
indications of declension, and must therefore be reserved for another chapter.
In the meanwhile, let it be borne in mind that no such parade of wickedness is necessary in order to insure the ruin of the soul. As the life of piety belongs to the hidden man of the heart, it is not a matter of course that, where there is religious declension, its symptoms are visible and obvious. The whole mischief may be accomplished in secret ; it may be unimagined by others, and even unsuspected by the individual himself, Rev. iii. 17. Hence, nothing short of the beatific vision can render obsolete the
-“ Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be
in lead me in the way everlasting," Psalm cxxxix. 23, 24.