It was the dying observation- penned the day preceding her departure- of one of the most amiable and intellectual of her sex (Jane Taylor)- "Did you know what thoughts I have now, you would see as I do, that the whole business of life is preparation for death." In contrast with this weighty sentiment of the dying Christian, we place the solemn testimony of the dying worldling- "I have all my days," said he," been getting ready to live, and now I must die!" What an affecting declaration is this! And how true of the great mass of our fellow immortals- all planning, and toiling, and preparing to live- yet how few preparing to die! To place before such the subject of real life, and to awaken in their minds a consideration of its nature, and a sense of its solemnities, is one design of the following pages.
But they address themselves more especially, and at length, to a smaller, though by no means a limited class- the religious professors of the day. The subject of his work suggested itself to the author's mind during a visit to the metropolis. His close communion, at that time, with what is called the 'religious world,' forced upon his mind the painful conviction, that while religious profession was greatly on the increase- and never more so in the higher classes of society than at the present- vital godliness was in proportion on the decline; that while- to speak commercially- the quantity of religion was increasing, its quality was deteriorating. The vast number whose Christian profession was avowed- whose religious character was recognized- whose theological creed was sound- whose conversation was pious- whose sacred observances were rigid- whose benevolence was applauded- whose zeal was admired- who prided themselves upon their eloquent preacher, and their favorite religious author; but who yet were living in the world, and living as the world, and living to the world- deeply and painfully saddened him. The question frequently arose in his mind- "Where is the salt? Where are the really living souls? Where are those who know what true conversion is? Who are following Christ, and are living for God? Where are the possessors of the true spiritual life?" Alas! the world has become so like the Church, and the Church so closely resembles the world; the one so religious, and the other so carnal; an unskilled eye may be deceived in searching for the essential points of difference. Nor this alone. Even among those in whose souls it would be wrong, no, impossible, to deny the existence of spiritual life, how few are found who really seem for themselves to know it!
On his return to his flock, the author- in his usual extemporary mode of address- unburdened his mind from the pulpit. The result, in a calmly written and greatly amplified form, is now, with lowliness and prayer, presented to the public. Deeply sensible as he is of the many imperfections of his performance, he yet does not regret its undertaking. The hours of holy, tranquil thought stolen from the pillow, abstracted from the attractions of the domestic circle, and the engagements of a pleasant pastorate-and devoted to the preparation of this work, have been to his own mind inexpressibly soothing and solemn: may a kindred influence- tenfold in its measure- rest upon the spirit of the reader!
The object of this simple treatise- as its title sufficiently intimates- is to unfold the nature, the relapse, and the recovery of the spiritual life of the believer. The work may with propriety- and with God's blessing, may with profit- be placed in the hands of the unconverted, to whom much of its contents are particularly and earnestly addressed. It chiefly, however, appeals to the conscience of the 'religious professor', and is designed to meet the general character of the prevailing Christianity of the day. But the experienced and matured Christian is not overlooked in the discussion of the subject. The temptations- the conflicts- the trials, and the various fluctuations of feeling, through which he passes in his difficult but blessed way to his heavenly rest, together with his encouragements, consolations, and hopes, pass under review in these pages. To the prayers of the living soul the work is commended- to the blessing of the Holy Spirit of life it is committed- to the glory of the Triune God it is dedicated. And should He condescend to own it, to the quickening of any dead soul- to the reviving of spiritual life in any believer- to the confirmation of any wavering, or to the comfort of any tried child of God- to Him shall be all the praise. Amen.