Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul
by Octavius Winslow (1841)
Chapter 2: Declension in LOVE
"The love of many shall wax cold." (Matthew 24:12)
Having described the hidden and incipient declension of the believer, we propose in the present and succeeding chapters, to trace this melancholy state in some of its more advanced stages, as it is seen in the langour and decay of the graces of the Spirit in the soul. It is no longer the concealed, but developed, character of spiritual and personal declension that we are now to consider. Its type is more marked, and its symptoms more palpable and visible to the eye. It has arrived at such a stage as to render concealment impossible. Just as in the physical frame, a slight sinking in the heart's pulsation, even though the seat of disease is invisible, may be traced in the external symptoms that ensue; so, in the spiritual man, when there is a secret unhealthiness of the soul, the effects are so marked in their character as to leave no doubt of its existence. The man may not himself be sensible of his backsliding state; he may wrap himself up in the fearful deception that all is well, close his eyes voluntarily against his real state, disguise from himself the rapidly advancing disease, crying "peace, peace," and putting far off the evil day; but with a spiritual and advancing believer, one whose eye is keen to detect an unfavorable symptom, and whose touch is skillful to mark a sickly pulse, the case is involved in no mystery.
In tracing the declension of some of the essential and prominent graces of the Spirit, we commence with the grace of LOVE, it constituting the spring-head of all the kindred graces. The spiritual state of the soul, and the vigor and promptness of its obedience, will correspond with the state and tone of the believer's affections toward God. If decay, coldness, declension, exist here, it is felt and traced throughout the entire obedience of the new man. Every grace of the Spirit feels it; every call to duty feels it; and every throb of the spiritual pulse will but betray the secret and certain declension of Divine love in the soul. Let the Christian reader, then, imagine what must be the spiritual unhealthiness of the believer, what his outward and visible declensions from God, when love, the spring of all spiritual duties, ceases to exert a vigorous influence, and when, as the heart of experimental godliness, it transmits but sickly and sluggish streams of life throughout the spiritual system. Let us, before we proceed to the immediate discussion of the main subject before us, present a brief and scriptural view of the necessity, nature, and operation of Divine love in the soul.
Love to God is spoken of in his word, as forming the primary and grand requirement of the Divine law. Thus is the truth declared, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment (Mt 22:37,38)." Now, it was both infinitely wise and good in God, thus to present himself the proper and lawful object of love. We say it was wise, because, had he placed the object of supreme affection lower than himself, it had been to have elevated an inferior object above himself. For whatever other object than God is loved with a sole and supreme affection, it is a deifying of that object, so that it, as God, sits in the temple of God, showing itself that it is God. It was good, because a lesser object of affection could never have met the desires and aspirations of an immortal mind. God has so constituted man, implanting in him such a capacity for happiness, and such boundless and immortal desires for its possession, as can find their full enjoyment only in infinity itself. He never designed that the intelligent and immortal creature should sip its bliss at a lower fountain than himself. Then it was infinitely wise and good in God, that he should have presented himself as the sole object of supreme love and worship to his intelligent creatures. His wisdom saw the necessity of having one center of supreme and adoring affection, and one object of supreme and spiritual worship to angels and to men. His goodness suggested that that center and that that object should be himself, the perfection of infinite excellence, the fountain of infinite good. That, as from him went forth all the streams of life to all creatures, it was but reasonable and just that to him should return, and in him should center, all the streams of love and obedience of all intelligent and immortal creatures: that, as he was the most intelligent, wise, glorious, and beneficent object in the universe, it was meet that the first, strongest, and purest love of the creature should soar towards, and find its resting-place in him.
Love to God, then, forms the grand requirement, and fundamental precept of the Divine law. It is binding upon all intelligent beings. From it no consideration can release the creature. No plea of inability, no claim of inferior objects, no opposition of rival interest, can lessen the obligation of every creature that has breath to "love the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind." It grows out of the relation of the creature to God, as his Creator, Moral Governor, and Preserver; and as being in himself the only object of infinite excellence, wisdom, holiness, majesty, and grace. This obligation, too, to love God with supreme affection, is binding upon the creature irrespective of any advantage which may result to him from so loving God. It is most true that God has benevolently connected supreme happiness with supreme love, and has threatened supreme misery, where supreme affection is withheld; yet, independent of any blessing that may accrue to the creature from its love to God, the infinite excellence of the Divine nature, and the eternal relation in which he stands to the intelligent universe, render it irreversibly obligatory on every creature to love him with a supreme, paramount, holy, and unreserved affection.
Love, too, is the great influential principle of the Gospel. The religion of Jesus is pre-eminently a religion of motive: it excludes every compulsory principle; it arrays before the mind certain great and powerful motives with which it enlists the understanding, the will, and the affections, in the active service of Christ. Now the law of Christianity is not the law of coercion, but of love. This is the grand lever, the great influential motive, - "the love of Christ constrains us." This was the apostle's declaration, and his governing motive; and the constraining love of Christ is to be the governing motive, the influential principle of every believer. Apart from the constraining influence of Christ's love in the heart, there cannot possibly be a willing, prompt, and holy obedience to his commandments. A conviction of duty and the influence of fear may sometimes urge forward the soul, but love alone can prompt to a loving and holy obedience; and all obedience that springs from an inferior motive is not the obedience that the gospel of Jesus inculcates. The relation in which the believer stands to God, under the new covenant dispensation, is not that of a slave to his master, but of a child to its father. "And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father (Gal 4:6)." "The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God (Rom 8:16)." "Wherefore you are no more a servant (a slave), but a son (Gal 4:7)." With this new and spiritual relation, we look for a new and spiritual motive, and we find it in that single but comprehensive word - LOVE. And thus our Lord declared it: "If you love me, keep my commandments (Jn 14:15)." "If a man love me, he will keep my words; and he who loves me not, keeps not my sayings (Jn 14:23,24)." It is then only where this love is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit, that we may expect to find the fruit of obedience. Swayed by this Divine principle, the believer labors not for life, but from life: not for acceptance, but from acceptance. A holy, self-denying, cross-bearing life, is not the drudgery of a slave, but the filial, loving obedience of a child: it springs from love to the person, and gratitude for the work of Jesus; and is the blessed effect of the spirit of adoption in the heart.
It must be acknowledged, too, that this motive is the most holy and influential of all motives of obedience. Love, flowing from the heart of Jesus into the heart of a poor, believing sinner, expelling selfishness, melting coldness, conquering sinfulness, and drawing that heart up in a simple and unreserved surrender, is, of all principles of action, the most powerful and sanctifying. Under the constraining influence of this principle, how easy becomes every cross for Jesus! - how light every burden, how pleasant every yoke! Duties become privileges - difficulties vanish - fears are quelled - shame is humbled - delay is rebuked; and, all on flame for Jesus, the pardoned, justified, adopted child exclaims, "Here, Lord, am I, a living sacrifice; your for your, and your for eternity!"
Love is that principle that expels all legal fear from the heart. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has torment. He who fears is not made perfect in love (1 Jn 4:18)." Who has felt it will deny that "fear has torment?" The legal fear of death, of judgment, and of condemnation, - the fear engendered by a slavish view of the Lord's commandments, - a defective view of the believer's relation to God, - imperfect conceptions of the finished work of Christ, - unsettled apprehensions of the great fact of acceptance, - yielding to the power of unbelief, - the retaining of guilt upon the conscience, or the influence of any concealed sin, will fill the heart with the torment of fear. Some of the most eminent of God's people have thus been afflicted: this was Job's experience, - "I am afraid of all my sorrows." "Even when I remember, I am afraid, and trembling takes hold on my flesh." "When I consider him, I am afraid of him." So also David, - "What time I am afraid, I will trust in you." "My flesh trembles for fear of you; I am afraid of your judgments." But "perfect love casts out fear:" he who fears is not perfected in the love of Christ. The design and tendency of the love of Jesus shed abroad in the heart, is to lift the soul out of all its "bondage through fear of death" and its ultimate consequences, and soothe it to rest on the glorious declaration, triumphing in which many have gone to glory, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." See the blessed spring from whence flows a believer's victory over all bondage-fear - from Jesus: not from his experience of the truth, not from evidence of his acceptance and adoption, not from the work of the Spirit in his heart, blessed as it is, but from out of, and away from, himself, even from Jesus. The blood and righteousness of Christ, based upon the infinite dignity and glory of his person, and wrought into the experience of the believer by the Holy Spirit, expel from the heart all fear of death and judgment, and fill it with perfect peace. O you of fearful heart! why these anxious doubts, why these tormenting fears, why this shrinking from the thought of death, why these distant, hard, and unkind thoughts of God? Why this prison-house, - why this chain? You are not perfected in the love of Jesus, for "perfect love casts out fear;" you are not perfected in that great truth, that Jesus is mighty to save, that he died for a poor sinner, that his death was a perfect satisfaction to Divine justice; and that without a single meritorious work of your own, just as you are, poor, empty, vile, worthless, unworthy, you are welcome to the rich provision of sovereign grace and dying love. The simple belief of this will perfect your heart in love; and perfected in love, every bondage-fear will vanish away. O seek to be perfected in Christ's love! It is a fathomless ocean. Why then should you not descend into it? Approach, for it is free; drink, for it is deep; launch into it, for it is broad. "The Lord direct your heart into the love of God."
Love is that grace of the Spirit that brings faith into active exercise; "faith which works by love (Gal 5:6)," and faith thus brought into exercise, brings every spiritual blessing into the soul. A believer stands by faith (Rom 11:20); he walks by faith (2 Cor 5:7); he overcomes by faith (1 Jn 5:4); he lives by faith (Gal 2:20). Love is therefore a laboring grace; "God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which you have showed towards his name (Heb 11:10)." There is nothing indolent in the nature of true love; it is not an inert, sluggish principle: where it dwells in the heart in a healthy and vigorous state, it constrains the believer to live not to himself, but unto Him who loved and gave himself for him; it awakes the soul to watchfulness, sets it upon the work of frequent self-examination, influences it to prayer, daily walking in the precepts, acts of kindness, benevolence, and charity, all springing from love to God, and flowing in a channel of love to man.
The Holy Spirit distinguishes love as a part of the Christian armor: "Let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the bosom-plate of faith and love (1 Thess 5:8)." Without ardent and increasing love to God, the believer is but poorly armed against his numerous spiritual and ever-aggressive foes: but what a bosom-plate and helmet is this in the day of battle! Who can overcome a child of God whose heart is overflowing with Divine love? what enemy can prevail against him thus armed? There is something so shielding in its influence, so repelling to the spirit of enmity and darkness, so obnoxious to sin, that he only is fit for the conflict who is well clad in the bosom-plate of love. He may be, and he is, in himself, nothing but weakness; his foes many and mighty; hemmed in on every side by his spiritual Philistines; and yet, his heart soaring to God in love, longing for his presence, panting for his precepts, desiring above and beyond all other blessings, Divine conformity! O with what a panoply is he clothed! No weapon formed against him shall prosper: every "fiery dart of the adversary" shall be quenched, and he shall "come off more than a conqueror through him who has loved him."
In a word, love is immortal; it is that grace of the Spirit that will never die. This is not so with all the kindred graces; the period will come when they will no more be needed. The day is not far distant, when faith will be turned to sight, and hope will be lost in full fruition, but love will never die; it will live on, and expand the heart, and tune the lip, and inspire the song, through the unceasing ages of eternity. "Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away;" but love never fails; it is an eternal spring, welled in the bosom of Deity; heaven will be its dwelling-place, God its source, the glorified spirit its subject, and eternity its duration.
For one moment let the Christian reader call to mind the period and the circumstances of his first espousals to Jesus. If there ever was a blissful period of your life, - if a spot of verdure in the remembrance of the past, on which the sunlight ever rests, - was it not the time, and is it not the place, where your heart first expanded with the love of Jesus? You have, it may be, trod many a thorny path since then; you have traveled many a weary step of your pilgrimage - have buffeted many storms, have waded through many deep afflictions, and fought many severe battles, - but all have well-near faded from your memory; but the hour and the events of your "first love," - these you never have forgotten, you never can forget. O ever to be loved, ever to be remembered with deep songs of joy, with adoring gratitude to free and sovereign grace, the period when the chains of your bondage were broken, - when your fettered soul broke from its thraldom, and sprang into the liberty of the sons of God, - when light discovered your darkness, and that darkness rolled away before its increasing luster, - when the Spirit wounded you, then healed that wound with the precious balm of Gilead, - when he gave you sorrow, then soothed that sorrow by a view of the crucified Lamb of God, - when faith took hold of Jesus and brought the blessed assurance into the soul, "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine;" and when Jesus whispered, - O how tender was his voice! - "Your sins, which were many, are all forgiven; go in peace." Blissful moment! How fresh is the whole transaction to your mind: the sanctuary where you did worship, - the minister whom you did hear, - the people with whom you did associate, - the spot where you did lose your burden, and where light, and love, and joy, broke in upon your soul, - the saints who rejoiced over you, and the happy converts who clustered around you, mingling their joys and their songs with your; and the man of God who introduced you within the pale, and to the ordinances and the privileges of the Church of Christ, - all, all is now before you with a vividness and a freshness as though it had bust just transpired. O that the Lord should ever have reason to prefer the charge, "you have left your first love!" And yet to the consideration of this melancholy state of a professing soul we have now to turn. May the Spirit of truth and of love be our guide and teacher!
The subject now before us for reflection, is the humbling and affecting truth, that the grace of love in a child of God may greatly and sadly decline. We speak, let it be remembered, not of the destruction of the principle, but of the decline of its power. This spiritual and influential truth cannot be too frequently nor too strongly insisted upon, - that through faith and love, and hope, and zeal, and their kindred graces, may greatly decline in their vigor, fervor, and real growth; yet that they may entirely fail even in their greatest decay, or severest trial, the Word of God assures us can never be. To believe the opposite of this, is to deny their Divine origin, their spiritual and immortal character, and to impeach the wisdom, power, and faithfulness of God. Not a grain of wheat can ever be lost in the sifting, not a particle of the pure gold in the refining. Let us now be understood as unfolding in this chapter the declension of love in its vital actings in the soul, and in its influential character upon the outward, holy walk of a child of God.
In looking into God's Word, we find this to have been the solemn charge which he brought against his ancient professing people: "Thus says the Lord, I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your espousals, when you went after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown." Then follows the charge of declension in their love: "Thus says the Lord, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?" "O generation, see you the word of the Lord. Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness? Wherefore say my people, We are lords; we will come no more unto you? Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? yet my people have forgotten me days without number (Jer 2:2,5,31)." And to the same state, as forming an evidence of approaching desolations, our dear Lord refers, when He says, "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold (Mt 24:12)." And against the church of Ephesus the same charge is thus preferred: "Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love (Rev 2:4)." The following may be considered as forming some of the marked characteristics of the decay and declension of this principle.
When God becomes less an object of fervent desire, holy delight, and frequent contemplation, we may suspect a declension of Divine love in the soul. Our spiritual views of God, and our spiritual and constant delight in him, will be materially affected by the state of our spiritual love. If there is coldness in the affections, if the mind grows earthly, carnal, and selfish, dark and gloomy shadows will gather round the character and the glory of God. He will become less an object of supreme attachment, unmingled delight, adoring contemplation, and filial trust. The moment the supreme love of Adam to God declined, - the instant that it swerved from its proper and lawful center, he shunned converse with God, and sought to embower himself from the presence of the Divine glory. Conscious of a change in his affections, - sensible of a divided heart, of subjection to a rival interest, - and knowing that God was no longer the object of his supreme love, nor the fountain of his pure delight, nor the blessed and only source of his bliss, - he rushed from his presence as from an object of terror, and sought concealment in Eden's bowers. That God whose presence was once so glorious, whose converse was so holy, whose voice was so sweet, became as a strange God to the rebellious and conscience-stricken creature, and, "absence from you is best," was written in dark letters upon his guilty brow.
And whence this difference? Was God less glorious in himself? was he less holy, less loving, less faithful, or less the fountain of supreme bliss? Far from it. God has undergone no change. It is the perfection of a perfect Being that he is unchangeable; that he can never act contrary to his own nature, but must ever be, in all that he does, in harmony with himself. The change was in the creature. Adam had left his first love, had transferred his affections to another and an inferior object; and conscious that he had ceased to love God, he would gladly have veiled himself from his presence, and have excluded himself from his communion. It is even so in the experience of a believer, conscious of declension in his love to God. There is a hiding from his presence; there are misty views of his character, misinterpretations of his dealings, and a lessening of holy desire for him: but where the heart is right in its affections, warm in its love, fixed in its desires, God is glorious in his perfections, and communion with him the highest bliss on earth. This was David's experience, - "O God, you are my God; early will I seek you: my soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you in a dry and thirsty land where no water is; to see your power and your glory, so as I have seen you in the sanctuary. Because your loving-kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise you (Ps 63:1-3)."
Not only in the declension of Divine love in the soul, does God become lass an object of adoring contemplation and desire, but there is less filial approach to Him. The sweet confidence and simple trust of the child is lost; the soul no longer rushes into his bosom with all the lowly yet fond yearnings of an adopted son, but lingers at a distance; or, if it attempts to approach, does so with the trembling and the restraint of a slave. The tender, loving, child-like spirit, that marked the walk of the believer in the days of his espousals, when no object was so glorious to him as God, no being so loved as his heavenly Father, no spot so sacred as the throne of communion, no theme so sweet as his free grace adoption, has in a great degree departed; and distrust, and legal fears, and bondage of spirit, have succeeded it. All these sad effects may be traced to the declension of filial love in the soul of the believer towards God.
Hard thoughts of God in his dispensations, may be regarded as another undeniable symptom. The mark of a vigorous love to God is when the soul justifies God in all his wise and gracious dealings with it; rebels not, murmurs not, repines not, but meekly and silently acquiesces in the dispensation, be it never so trying. Divine love in the heart, deepening and expanding towards that God from whence it springs, will, in the hour of trial, exclaim, "My God has smitten me, but he is my God still, faithful and loving. My father has chastened me sore, but he is my Father still, tender and kind. This trying dispensation originated in love, it speaks with the voice of love, it bears with it the message of love, and is sent to draw my heart closer and yet closer to the God of love, from whom it came." Dear reader, are you one of the Lord's afflicted ones? Happy are you if this is the holy and blessed result of his dealings with you. Happy if you heard the voice of love in the rod, winning your lone and sorrowful heart to the God from whom it came. But when love to God has declined, the reverse of this is the state of a tried and afflicted believer.
When there is but little inclination for communion with God, and the throne of grace is sought as a duty rather than a privilege, and, consequently, but little fellowship is experienced, a stronger evidence we need not of a declension of love in the soul. The more any object is to us a source of sweet delight and contemplation, the more strongly do we desire its presence, and the more restless are we in its absence. The friend we love we want constantly at our side; the spirit goes out in longings for communion with him, - his presence sweetens, his absence embitters, every other joy. Precisely true is this of God. He who knows God, who, with faith's eye, has discovered some of his glory, and by the power of the Spirit has felt something of his love, will not be at a loss to distinguish between God's sensible presence and absence in the soul. Some professing people walk so much without communion, without fellowship, without daily filial and close communion with God; they are so immersed in the cares, and so lost in the fogs and mists of the world; the fine edge of their spiritual affection is so blunted, and their love so frozen by contact with worldly influences and occupations, - and no less so, with cold, formal professors, - that the Sun of righteousness may cease to shine upon their soul, and they not know it! God may cease to visit them, and his absence not be felt! He may cease to speak, and the stillness of his voice not awaken an emotion of alarm! Yes, a more strange thing would happen to them, if the Lord were suddenly to break in upon their soul, with a visit of love, than were he to leave them for weeks and months without any token of his presence. Reader, are you a professing child of God? Content not yourself to live thus; it is a poor, lifeless existence, unworthy of your profession, unworthy of Him whose name you do bear, and unworthy of the glorious destiny towards which you are looking. Thus may a believer test the character of his love: he, in whose heart Divine affection deepens, increases, and expands, finds God an object of increasing delight and desire, and communion with him the most costly privilege on earth: he cannot live in the neglect of constant, secret, and close fellowship with his God, his best and most faithful Friend.
When there is a less tender walk with God, we may be at no loss to ascertain the state of our love. What do we mean by a tender walk? When a believer walks in holy circumspection, in uprightness, integrity, close vigilance, and prayerfulness, before God, he then walks softly: "I shall go softly all my years (Is 38:15)." When with filial tenderness, he trembles to offend his Father, his God, his best Friend, - when he increasingly delights himself in the precepts and commandments of the Lord, - when he would rather pluck from himself the right eye, and sever the right hand, than willfully and knowingly offend God, and grieve the Spirit; then his walk is tender and soft and close with God. And what constrains a believer to this glorious life, this holy, hidden walk, but the love of God shed abroad in his heart? Imagine, then, what dangers must throng the path, what temptations must beset the soul, in whom the precious and influential grace of love is in a state of declension and decay!
Need we add, when Christ is less glorious to the eye, and less precious to the heart, Divine love in the soul of a believer must be on the wane? it cannot be otherwise. Our views of Jesus must be materially affected by the state of our affections towards him. Where there is but little dealing with the atoning blood, leaning upon the righteousness, drawing from the fullness, and bearing daily the cross of Christ, the love of a believer waxes cold. We would judge the depth of a man's Christianity, by his reply to the question, "'What think you of Christ?' Is he lived to, is he lived upon? is his name your delight, his cross your boast, his work your resting place?" This will be your blessed experience, if the pulse of Divine love beats strong in your bosom for Christ.
A decay of love to the saints of God, is a strong evidence of a decay of love to God himself. If we love God with a sincere and deepening affection, we must love his image wherever we find it. It is true, the picture may be but an imperfect copy, the outline may be but faintly drawn; there may be shades we cannot approve of; yet, recognizing in the work the hand of the Spirit, and in the outline some resemblance to Him whom our souls admire and love, we must feel a drawing out of our holiest affections towards the object; we shall not pause before the surrender is made, to inquire to what section of the church of Christ he belongs, what name he bears, or what the color of his uniform; but, discovering the man of God, the meek and lowly follower of Jesus, our heart and our hand are freely offered. O what a passport to our hearts is the image of Jesus in a child of God! Do we trace Christ in the principles that guide him, in the motives that govern him, in the spirit, in the very looks of the man? - we feel that we must take him to our bosom for Jesus' sake. O, it marks the decay of love to God in the soul, when the heart beats faintly, and the eye looks coldly, towards any dear saint of God, because he belongs not to our party, and wears not our badge; when bigotry, narrow-minded selfishness, warps the mind, congeals the current of love, and almost unchristianises a believer. The word of God is solemn and decisive on this point: "If a man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment have we from him, that he who loves God, love his brother also (1 Jn 4:20,21)." "By this," says Jesus, "shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." If we love not the visible resemblance, how can we love the invisible Archetype?
When love to God declines, with it will decline an interest in the advancement and prosperity of his cause: the one invariably follows the other. We do not say that outward zeal may not continue long after a process of concealed declension has advanced in the soul, and secret duties have become neglected - this is the lamentable case with many; but a true, spiritual, and lively interest in the increase of Christ's kingdom, in the diffusion of his truth, the deepening of holiness in the church, the conversion of sinners, will invariably decline with the declension of love to God. And when we mark a member of a church maintaining his external union, and yet hanging as a dead and fruitless branch upon the vine, doing nothing to advance the cause of God and truth, withholding his money, his prayers, his personal attendance on the means of grace, and rather opposing than cheering on the active portion of the body, we are ready to ask, "How dwells the love of God in him?"
The declension of love may be traced to many CAUSES: we can enumerate but a few; let the following be seriously pondered. Worldly encroachment is a fruitful cause; no two affections can be more opposite and antagonistic than love to God and love to the world: it is impossible that they can both exist with equal force in the same bosom; the one or the other must be supreme, - they cannot occupy the same throne. If a Divine affection is regent, then the world is excluded; but if an earthly affection, a groveling and increasing love to the world governs - God is shut out: the one must give place to the other. Love to God will expel love to the world; love to the world will deaden the soul's love to God. "No man can serve two masters": it is impossible to love God and the world, to serve him and mammon. Here is a most fertile cause of declension in Divine love; guard against it as you would fortify yourself against your greatest foe. It is a vortex that has engulfed millions of souls; multitudes of professing Christians have been drawn into its eddy, and have gone down into its gulf. This enemy of your soul will steal upon you by silent and insidious encroachment. It has its disguises many. It will present itself masked in a proper regard for business, in a diligence in lawful callings, a prudent yielding to domestic claims, and will even quote scriptural precept and example, and assume the form of an angel of light; but suspect it, guard against it. Remember what is recorded by the apostle of a primitive professor: "Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world." Be not a modern Demas: "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world; if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." No Christian man can maintain his spirituality unimpaired, his love uninjured, his robe unspotted, his walk irreproachable, who secretly admits the world to his heart. How can he exemplify the life of a pilgrim and a sojourner; how can his heart rise in a constant flame of love to God? What attraction can the throne of grace have, what zest in spiritual duties, what delight in the communion of saints, while his heart goes out after covetousness, and worldly ambition, love of place, and human applause are the rival passions of his soul? Let it, then, be solemnly remembered, that an inordinate, uncrucified attachment to the world, must be parted with, if the precious grace of love to God is to enthrone itself in the affections of the believer.
An idolatrous and unsanctified attachment to the creature, has again and again crucified love to Christ in the heart. Upon the same principle that no man can love the world and God with a supreme and kindred affection, so no man can give to Christ and the creature the same intensity of regard. And yet, how often has the creature stolen the heart from its lawful Sovereign! That heart that was once so simply and so supremely the Lord's, - those affections that clung to him with such purity and power of grasp, have now been transferred to another and inferior object: the piece of clay that God had given but to deepen the obligation and heighten the soul's love to himself, has been molded into an idol, before which the heart pours its daily incense; the flower that he has caused to spring forth, but to endear his own beauty and make his own name more fragrant, has supplanted the "Rose of Sharon" in the bosom. Oh! is it thus that we abuse our mercies? is it thus that we convert our blessings into poisons? that we allow the things that were sent to endear the heart of our God, and to make the cross, through which they came, more precious, to allure our affections from their holy and blessed center? Fools that we are, to love the creature more than the Creator! Dear reader, why has God been disciplining you as, it may be, he has? why has he removed your idols, crumbled into dust your piece of clay, and blown witheringly upon your beauteous flower? - why? because he hates idolatry; and idolatry is essentially the same, whether it be offered to a lifeless, shapeless stock, or to a spirit of intellect and beauty. And what speaks his voice in every stream that he dries, in every plant that he blows upon, and in every disappointment he writes upon the creature? - "My son, give me your heart. I want your love, your pure and supreme affection; I want to be the one and only object of your delight. I gave my Son for you - his life for your; I sent my Spirit to quicken, to renew, to seal, and to possess you for myself: all this I did, that I might have your heart. To possess myself of this, I have smitten your gourds, removed your idols, broken your earthly dependences, and have sought to detach your affections from the creature, that they may rise, undivided and unfettered, and entwine around one who loves you with an undying love."
Again; interpreting God's covenant dealings in the light of judgments rather than the fruits of love, will tend greatly to deaden the soul's affections towards God. Hard and harsh thoughts of God will be the effect of wrong interpretations of his dealings: if for one moment we remove the eye from off the heart of God in the hour and depth of our trial, we are prepared to give heed to every dark suggestion of the adversary; that moment we look at the dispensation with a different mind, and to God with an altered affection; we view the chastisement as the effect of displeasure, and the covenant God that sent it, as unkind, unloving, and severe. But let faith's eagle-eye pierce the clouds and darkness that surround the throne, and behold the heart of God is still love, all love, and nothing but love, to his afflicted, bereaved, and sorrow-stricken child, and in a moment every murmur will be hushed, every rebellious feeling will be still, and every unkind thought will lay in the dust; and, "He has done all things well, - in love and faithfulness has he afflicted me," will be the only sounds uttered by the lips. If, then, beloved, you would have your heart always fixed on God, its affections flowing in one unbroken current towards him, interpret every dispensation that he sends in the light of his love; never suffer yourself to be betrayed into the belief, that any other feeling prompts the discipline; give not place to the suggestion for one moment, - banish it from the threshold of your mind, the moment it seeks an entrance. And let this be the reflection that hushes and soothes you to repose, even as an infant upon its mother's bosom: "My God is love! my Father is unchangeable tenderness and truth! he has done it, and it is well done."
Let us now turn to the consideration of the revival of this waning grace in the child of God; but before any especial means of revival are suggested or adopted, let the believer seek to know the exact state of his love to God. A knowledge of himself, is the first step in the return of every soul to God. In conversion, it was self-knowledge - a knowledge of ourselves as utterly lost - that led us to Jesus; thus did the Eternal Spirit teach, and thus he led us to the great and finished work of the Son of God. Before, then, you fall upon any means of revival, ascertain the exact state of your love, and what has caused its declension; shrink not from the examination, - hide not from the discovery. And should the humiliating truth force itself upon you, - "I am not as I once was; my soul has lost ground, - my spirituality of mind has decayed; - I have lost the fervor of my first love - have slackened in the heavenly race; Jesus is not as he once was, the joy of my day, the song of my night; - and my walk with God is no longer so tender, loving, and filial as it was," - then honestly and humbly confess it before God. To be humbled as we should be, we must know ourselves; there must be no disguising of our true condition from ourselves, nor from God: the wound must be probed, the disease must be known, and its most aggravated symptoms brought to view. Ascertain, then, the true state of your affection towards God; bring your love to him, to the touchstone of truth; see how far it has declined, and thus you will be prepared for the second step in the work of revival, which is, to -
Trace out and crucify the cause of your declension in love. Where love declines, there must be a cause; and when ascertained, it must be immediately removed. Love to God is a tender flower; it is a sensitive plant, soon and easily crushed; perpetual vigilance is needed to preserve it in a healthy, growing state. The world's heat will wither it, the coldness of formal profession will often nip it: a thousand influences, all foreign to its nature and hostile to its growth, are leagued against it; the soil in which it is placed is not genial to it. "In the flesh there dwells no good thing;" whatever of holiness is in the believer, whatever breathing after Divine conformity, whatever soaring of the affections towards God, is from God himself, and is there as the result of sovereign grace. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." What sleepless vigilance, then, and what perpetual culture are needed, to preserve the bloom and the fragrance, and to nourish the growth of this celestial plant! Search out and remove the cause of the declension and decay of this precious grace of the Spirit; rest not until it is discovered and brought to light. Should it prove to be the world, come out from it. and be you separate, and touch not the unclean thing; or the power of indwelling sin, seek its immediate crucifixion by the cross of Jesus. Does the creature steal your heart from Christ, and deaden your love to God? - resign it at God's bidding; he asks the surrender of your heart, and has promised to be better to you than all creature love. All the tenderness, the fond affection, the acute sympathy, the true fidelity, that you ever did find or enjoy in the creature, dwells in God, your covenant God and Father, in an infinite degree. He makes the creature all it is to you: that fond smile which your fellow-believer beamed upon you, was but a ray from his countenance; that expression of love was but a drop from his heart; that tenderness and sympathy was a part of his nature. Then, possessing God in Christ, you can desire no more, - you can have no more: if he asks the surrender of the creature, cheerfully resign it; and let God be all in all to you. This suggests a second direction:
Draw largely from the fount of love in God. All love to God in the soul is the result of his love to us; it is begotten in the heart by his Spirit, - "We love him, because he first loved us:" he took the first step, and made the first advance, - "He first loved us." O heart-melting truth! The love of God to us when yet we were sinners, who can unfold it? what mortal tongue can describe it? Before we had any being, and when er were enemies, he sent his Son to die for us; and when we were far off by wicked works, he sent his Spirit to bring us to him in the cloudy and dark day. All his dealings with us since then - his patience, restoring mercies, tender, loving, faithful care, yes, the very strokes of his rod, have but unfolded the depths of his love towards his people: this is the love we desire you to be filled with. "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God." Draw largely from this river; why should you deny yourselves? There is enough love in God to overflow the hearts of all his saints through all eternity; then why not be filled? "The LORD direct your hearts into the love of God;" stand not upon the brink of the fountain, linger not upon the margin of this river, - enter into it - plunge into it; it is for you, - poor, worthless, unworthy, vile as you feel yourself to be, - this river of love is yet for you! Seek to be filled with it, that you may know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, and that your heart in return may ascend in a flame of love to God.
Deal much and closely with a crucified Savior. Here is the grand secret of a constant ascending of the affections to God. If you do find it difficult to comprehend the love of God towards you, read it in the cross of his dear Son. "In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 Jn 4:9,10)." Dwell upon this amazing fact; drink into this precious truth; muse upon it, ponder it, search into it, pray over it, until your heart is melted down, and broken, and overwhelmed with God's wondrous love to you, in the gift of Jesus. O how will this rekindle the flame that is ready to die in your bosom! how it will draw you up in a holy and unreserved surrender of Body, soul, and spirit! Do not forget, then, to deal much with Jesus. Whenever you detect a waning of love, a reluctance to take up the daily cross, a shrinking from the precept, go immediately to Calvary; go simply and directly to Jesus; get your heart warmed with ardent love by contemplating him upon the cross, and soon will the frosts that gather round it melt away, the congealed current shall begin to flow, and the "chariots of Amminadab" shall bear your soul away to communion and fellowship with God.
Do not fail to honor the Holy Spirit in this great work of revival. The work is all his; beware of taking it out of his hands. The means we have suggested for the revival of this waning grace of love, can only be rendered effectual as the Spirit works in you, and works with you. Pray much for his anointings; go to him as the Glorifier of Christ, as the Comforter, the Sealer, the Witness, the Earnest of his people: it is he who will apply the atoning blood, - it is he who will revive your drooping graces, - it is he who will fan to a flame your waning love, by unfolding the cross, and directing your heart into the love of God. Take not your eye off the love of the Spirit; his love is equal with the Father's and the Son's love. Honor him in his love, let it encourage you to draw largely from his influences, and to be "filled with the Spirit."
Lastly: remember that though your love has waxed cold, the love of your God and Father towards you has undergone no diminishing: not the shadow of a change has it known. Although he has hated your declension, has rebuked your wandering, yet his love he has not withdrawn from you. What an encouragement to return to him again! Not one moment has God turned his back upon you, though you have turned your back upon him times without number: his face has always been towards you; and it would have shone upon you with all its melting power, but for the clouds which your own waywardness and sinfulness have caused to obscure and hide from you its blessed light. Retrace your steps and return again to God. Though you have been a poor wanderer and has left your first love, - though your affections have strayed from the Lord, and your heart has gone after other lovers, still God is gracious and ready to pardon you; he will welcome you back again for the sake of Jesus, his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased, for this is his own blessed declaration, - "If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then I will visit their transgressions with a rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless, mo loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail (Ps 89:30-33)."