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expectation of such success, as shall carry you above those varieties in temper, conduct, and state, which have been more or less the complaint of the best of men. Much do I fear, that how warmly soever your heart may now be impressed with the representation I have been making, though the great objects of your faith and hope continue unchangeable, your temper towards them will be changed. Much do I fear, that you will feel your mind languish and tire in the good ways of God; nay, that you may be prevailed upon to take some step out of them, and may thus fall a prey to some of those temptations, which you now look upon with a holy scorn. The probable consequence of this will be, that God will hide his face from you; that he will stretch forth his afflicting hand against you; and that you still will see your sorrowful moments, how cheerfully soever you may now be rejoicing in the Lord, and joying in the God of your salvation*. I hope therefore it may be of some service, if this too probable event should happen, to consider these cases a little more particularly and I heartily pray, that God would make what I shall say concerning them, the means of restoring, comforting, and strengthening your soul, if he ever suffers you in any degree to deviate from him.
§. 2. We will first consider the case of spiritual declension, and languor in religion. And here I desire, that, before I proceed any farther, you would observe, that I do not comprehend under this head every abatement of that fervour, which a young convert may find when he first becomes experimentally acquainted with divine things. Our natures are so framed, that the novelty of objects strikes them in something of a peculiar manner: not to urge, how much more easily our passions are impressed in the earlier years of life, than when we are more advanced in the journey of it. This, perhaps, is not sufficiently considered. Too great a stress is commonly laid on the flow of affections; and in consequence of this a christian who is ripened in grace, and greatly advanced in his preparation for glory, may sometimes be ready to lament imaginary rather than real decays, and to say, without any just foundation, Oh that it were with me as in months past+! Therefore, you can hardly be too frequently told, that religion consists chiefly, "in the resolution of the will for God, and in a constant care to avoid whatever we are persuaded he would disapprove, to dispatch the work he has assigned us in life, and to promote his glory in the happiness of
+ Job xxix, 2.
*Isai. Ixi. 10.
mankind." To this we are chiefly to attend, looking in all to the simplicity and purity of those motives from which we act, which we know are chiefly regarded by that God who searches the heart; humbling ourselves before him at the same time under a sense of our many imperfections, and flying to the blood of Christ and the grace of the gospel.
§. 3. Having given this precaution, I will now a little more particularly describe the case, which I call the state of a christian who is declining in religion; so far as it does not fall in with those, which I shall consider in the following chapters. And I must observe that it chiefly consists, "in a forgetfulness of divine objects, and a remissness in those various duties, to which we stand engaged by that solemn surrender, which we have made of ourselves to the service of God." There will be a variety of symptoms, according to the different circumstances and relations in which the christian is placed; but some will be of a more universal kind. It will be peculiarly proper to touch on these; and so much the rather, as these declensions are often unobserved, like the grey hairs which were upon Ephraim, when he knew it not*.
§. 4. Should you, my good reader, fall into this state, it will probably first discover itself by a failure of the duties of the closet. Not that I suppose, they will at first, or certainly conclude, that they will at all, be wholly omitted: but they will be run over in a cold and formal manner. Sloth, or some of those other snares which I cautioned you against in the former chapter, will so far prevail upon you, that though perhaps you know and recollect, that the proper season of retirement is come, you will sometimes indulge yourself upon your bed in the morning, sometimes in conversation or business in the evening, so as not to have convenient time for it. Or perhaps, when you come into your closet at that season, some favourite book you are desi.ous to read, some correspondence that you chuse to carry on, or some other amusement will present itself, and plead to be dispatched first. This will probably take up more time than you imagined; and then secret prayer will be hurried over, and perhaps reading the scripture quite neglected. You will plead perhaps that it is but for once: but the same allowance will be made a second and a third time; and it will grow more easy and familiar to you each time, than it was the last. And thus God will be mocked, and your own soul will be defrauded of its spiritual meals, if I may be allowed the
* Hos. vii. 9.
expression; the word of God will be slighted, and self-examination quite disused; and secret prayer itself will grow a burden, rather than a delight: a trifling ceremony rather than a devout homage fit for the acceptance of our Father who is in heaven.
§. 5. If immediate and resolute measures be not taken for your recovery from these declensions, they will spread farther, and reach the acts of social worship. You will feel the effect in your families, and in public ordinances. And if you do not feel it, the symptoms will be so much the worse. Wandering thoughts will (as it were) eat out the very heart of these duties. It is not, I believe, the privilege of the most eminent christians, to be entirely free from them: but probably in these circumstances, you will find but few intervals of strict attention, or of any thing which wears the appearance of inward devotion. And when these heartless duties are concluded, there will scarce be a reflection made, how little God hath been enjoyed in them. how little he hath been honoured by them. Perhaps the sacrament of the Lord's-supper, being so admirably adapted to fix the attention of the soul, and to excite its warmest exercise of holy affections, may be the last ordinance in which these declensions will be felt. And yet, who can say, that the sacred table is a privileged place? Having been unnecessarily straitened in your peparations, you will attend with less fixedness and enlargement of heart than usual. And perhaps a dissatisfaction in the review, when there has been a remarkable alienation or insensibility of mind, may occasion a disposition to forsake your place and your duty there. And when your spiritual enemies have once gained this point upon you, it is probable you will fall by swifter degrees than ever, and your resistance to their attempts will grow weaker and weaker.
§. 6. When your love to God our Father, and to the Lord Jesus Christ fails, your fervour of christian affection to your brethren in Christ will proportionably decline, and your concern for usefulness in life abate; especially, where any thing is to be done for spiritual edification. You will find one excuse or another, for the neglect of religious discourse, perhaps not only among neighbours and christian friends, when very convenient opportunities offer; but even with regard to those, who are members of your own families, and to those, who, if yon are fixed in the superior relations of life, are committed to your care. §. 7. With this remissness, an attachment, either to sensual pleasure, or to wordly business, will increase. For the soul must have something to employ it, and something to delight itself in and as it turns to one or the other of these, tempta
tions of one sort or another will present themselves. In some instances, perhaps the strictest bounds of temperance, and the regular appointments of life may be broken in upon through a fondness for company, and the entertainments which often attend it. In other instances, the interests of life appearing greater than they did before, and taking up more of the mind, contrary interests of other persons may throw you into disquietude, or plunge you in debate and contention, in which it is extremely difficult to preserve either the serenity, or the innocency of the soul. And perhaps, if ministers and other christian friends observe this, and endeavour in a plain and faithful way to reduce you from your wandering, a false delicacy of mind, often contracted in such a state as this, will render these attempts extremely disagreeable. The ulcer of the soul (if I may be allowed the expression,) will not bear being touched, when it most needs it; and one of the most generous and self-denying instances of christian friendship shall be turned into an occasion of coldness and distaste, yea, perhaps of enmity.
§. s. And possibly, to sum up all, this disordered state of mind may lead you into some prejudices against those very principles, which might be most effectual for your recovery: and your great enemy may succeed so far in his attempts against you, as to persuade you, that you have lost nothing in religion, when you have almost lost all. He may very probably lead you to conclude, that your former devotional frames were mere fits of enthusiasm; and that the holy regularity of your walk before God, was an unnecessary strictness and scrupulosity. Nay, you may think it a great improvement in understanding, that you have learnt from some new masters, that if a man treat his fellow-creatures with humanity and good-nature, judging and reviling those only who would disturb others by the narrowness of their notions, (for these are generally exempted from other objects of the most universal and disinterested benevolence so often boasted of,) he must necessarily be in a very good state, though he pretend not to converse much with God, provided that he think respectfully of him, and do not provoke him by any gross immoralities.
§. 9. I mention this in the last stage of religious declensions, because I apprehend that to be its proper place; and I fear, it will be found by experience to stand upon the very confines of that gross apostacy into deliberate and presumptuous sin, which will claim our consideration under the next head. And because too, it is that symptom, which most effectually tends to prevent the success, and even the use of any proper remedies, in con
sequence of a fond and fatal apprehension, that they are needless. It is, if I may borrow the simile, like those fits of lethargic drowsiness, which often precede apoplexies and death.
§. 10. It is by no means my design at this time to reckon up, much less to consider at large, those dangerous principles which are now ready to posses the mind, and to lay the foundation of a false and treacherous peace. Indeed they are in different instances various, and sometimes run into opposite extremes. But if God awaken you to read your Bible with attention, and give you to feel the spirit with which it is written, almost every page will flash in conviction upon the mind, and spread a light to scatter and disperse these shades of darkness.
§. 11. What I chiefly intend in this address, is to engage you, if possible, as soon as you perceive the first symptoms of these declensions, to be upon your guard, and to endeavour as speedily as possible to recover yourself from them. And I would remind you, that the remedy must begin, where the first cause or complaint prevailed, I mean, in the closet. Take some time for recollection, and ask your own conscience seriously, How matters stand between the blessed God, and your soul? Whether they are as they once were, and as you could wish them to be, if you saw your life just drawing to a period, and were to pass immediately into the eternal state? One serious thought of eternity, shames a thousand vain excuses, with which, in the forgetfulness of it, we are ready to delude our own souls. And when you feel that secret misgiving of heart, which wil naturally arise on this occasion, do not endeavour to palliate the matter, and to find out slight and artful coverings, for what you cannot forbear secretly condemning; but honestly fall under the conviction, and be humbled for it. Pour out your heart before God, and seek the renewed influences of his spirit and grace. Return with more exactness to secret devotion, and to self-examination. Read the scripture with yet greater diligence and especially the more devotional and spiritual parts of it. Labour to ground it in your heart, and to feel, what you have reason to believe the sacred penmen felt when they wrote, sc far as circumstances may agree. Open your soul with all simplicity, to every lesson which the word of God would teach you; and guard against those things, which you perceive to alienate your mind from inward religion, though there be nothing criminal in the things themselves. They may perhaps in the general be lawful; to some possibly they may be expedient; but if they produce such an effect as was mentioned above, it is certain they are not convenient for you. In these circumstances,