What methods must a Christian, in declining circumstances, take to recover a healthful and vigorous frame of soul, so as to be able to maintain real and close communion with God, amidst the hurries and businesses of this world?
II. When you have found the occasions of your decline, humble yourselves before the Lord, guard carefully against them for the future, get your hearts sensibly affected with your loss, and earnestly pray that the Spirit may not depart from you, but graciously return unto you. This was the case with David, of whom we have already spoken. When he was brought to a sense of his sins, how humble! He fell down prostrate before God, acknowledged and bewailed his backslidings. He was jealous, lest he should have provoked God entirely to withdraw his presence and Spirit from him: therefore he expostulated with him for the return of his favour, and that he would restore those divine consolations, which he had before experienced, but had lately lost, Ps. 51:11-12. Though we may not have been provoking God to withhold from us his special presence by the commission of such open and public sins as David, yet have we been too closely attached to the world? Have we neglected some of the great and important duties of the Christian life? Have we been too proud, too careless and secure in our frame, our walk and behaviour? Have we been trifling with God? It certainly becomes us to humble ourselves before him, if we expect his return unto us. We should draw near to him with weeping and lamentation; should be often endeavouring to impress our hearts with a sense of our ingratitude; should be often mourning before the Lord; and should set a mark upon those things that have been the occasions of our decline, that we may watch against them for the future. Be often reflecting upon the loss you have had. Consider the sickly condition your souls have been in, whilst the Spirit was withdrawn from you. Consider how justly God might have left you, had be been strict to mark your backslidings: and oh! admire his infinite patience, and earnestly pray for his Spirit to return and breathe upon your dry bones. Let it be your daily concern to beg of God, that he would keep your hearts, your affections, quicken your souls, and not leave you to coldness and formality. When Israel were exhorted to return unto the Lord, after they had sinned, they are directed to return by prayer, and instructed how to pray, or what to say, Hosea 14:2-3. Take you words, and turn to the Lord. Say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously; so will we render thee the calves of our lips, etc. Prayer suits all cases, and is never to be neglected. Is any afflicted? let him pray, James 5:13. So, has any fallen, grieved the Spirit, and lost, in some measure, that liveliness and vigour of soul he once experienced? let him return to God by prayer. Take with you words, even those words which God has furnished you with, and come to him; take a promise in your hand, and come and plead it with God for the return of his presence and Spirit.
III. Often make use of your covenant relation to God, in pleading with him, and with your own souls. The person that sent in the case under consideration does not appear to doubt of his being a Christian. The very form, in which the question stands, suppose it; and, upon this supposition, I proceed to give you this necessary direction. Some indeed may say, they cannot plead a covenant relation; for they are greatly in the dark about it, and are therefore afraid to do it. — In answer to this, in general, observe — So long as you find your viewing and your pleading your covenant relation quickens you, humbles you, sets you against all sin, and tends to fill you with love to Jesus and his service, look upon this as an evidence of your interest in the covenant. Plead therefore, my friends, this covenant relation to God, if you would have it better with your souls, and be in such a frame as to maintain communion with God.
1. Plead it with God. A sense of it tends greatly to give you faith and fervency in prayer, and to fill you with hopes of the divine presence and favour. Here is a glorious argument to make use of with God: rejoice in it, my dear friend, and make frequent use of it. Often throw yourself at the footstool of God’s throne, and address him in such language as this: — viz. ‘Lord, am I not thine? Didst thou not, O Father, choose me from eternity, and determine to bestow salvation upon me? Didst thou not, O mighty God, undertake for me, agree to put my name in the book of life, and, in consequence of this, come and suffer and die in my stead? And hast thou not renewed me, O eternal Spirit, and set the broad seal of heaven upon my soul? If I am not thine, Lord, what mean such instances of communion with thee? What means this love to Jesus, these desires after a conformity to his image? Are not these as so many evidences of thine everlasting love? And, oh! wilt thou leave me to wither and languish, to grow cold and formal? Wilt thou not come and kindle this sacred spark afresh, and carry on thy work with an almighty efficacy? I acknowledge, Lord, I am unworthy of thy favour: I have sinned, and deserve thy everlasting displeasure. But did it not please thee, of thine infinite grace, to enroll my name amongst thy chosen ones in the volume of eternity! And wilt thou leave me? Lord, it was thine own act, thy free act; and I would humbly plead it. Therefore, come and visit my soul, shed abroad thy love in my heart, pardon my backslidings, and may I be enabled to rejoice in thy covenant love, and walk and act as one who has a real interest in it.’ — Thus plead with God, and follow the example of the Psalmist, who in all difficulties, temporal and spiritual, addressed God as his God. Oh! the sweetness, the happiness, that is couched in these two words, My God!
2. Often make use of the same argument, and plead this covenant relation with your souls. When you find your souls in danger through sin; when you have lost your frame, and feel a coldness and formality, and the hurries of the world tempting you to a carelessness in and a negligence of duty; plead with your souls in some such manner as this: — ‘O my soul! am I acting like an heir of glory, to be thus encumbered, thus anxious, and thus careless? What, did the Father love me from eternity, and give me to his Son? Did Jesus suffer and die for me? And has the Spirit actually renewed me? In consequence of all this, is heaven my portion? Am I born to glory? Oh! and what, so cold, so formal? I will not leave thee, O my soul, in this withering condition. I will plead with thee the Father’s everlasting kindness: I will beseech thee by the tender compassions of the Son of God, who gave himself for thee: I will press upon thee the infinite love of the Spirit, who said unto thee, live. I will not leave thee, till I find things better with thee. May not the Father justly complain of thee? Hear, O my soul, what he says, What, did I look upon thee from everlasting with infinite kindness, and are these the returns thou art making? Is this like one of my chosen vessels? Did I pass by thousands, and look upon thee? and is this all the sense thou hast of thy obligations to me? — Hear Jesus gently chiding thee, O my slothful soul; saying, What, did I love thee so as to die for thee? Was the day of thy redemption upon my heart from everlasting? and shall my cause, my glory, lie so little upon thine? Behold my wounded soul, see my bitter agonies, and all to rescue thee from everlasting death: and wilt thou not love me more? — Hear the Spirit bringing in his charge against thee, and expostulating with thee — Have I not, in consequence of the Father’s everlasting love, and the Mediator’s purchase, come and brought thee out of darkness into light? What evidences have I given thee of covenant love? How have I calmed thy troubled conscience, shed abroad a Saviour’s love in thy heart, been a Spirit of grace and supplication in thee, and a Spirit of adoption too? And what, art thou so ungrateful, so cold, and secure? Thus may God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost upbraid and chide thee, O my soul: And shalt not this move thee? Lord, my heart begins to melt; it softens, it yields to so much love! Oh, come and do with me what thou pleasest! May I hate sin; may I love thee with greater fervency, and view every earthly enjoyment with indifference, and use all to thy glory.’ — Thus plead your covenant relation to God, and all the consequences of it, with your souls. Do it frequently, and you will find it, through the divine blessing, a happy means of enabling you to live above this world, whilst you are in it; of humbling you for sin; of quickening you under all decays; and of bringing you into a spiritual and heavenly frame, so as to maintain some communion with God, amidst the hurries of life.
IV. If you would keep up communion with God, whilst you are engaged in the affairs of the world, take care and watch over your frame, your ends, and views. — You may lawfully follow the world with diligence; but take care that you pursue those measures, that are necessary to keep your hearts at a proper distance from the world, lest they should be too much carried away with it, and entangled in it. Improve what time you can for God. Particularly take care of your frame, before you actually enter upon your secular affairs. Be concerned that the world does not creep into your hearts, when you rise in the morning. Your morning frames are of great importance. Labour to throw aside the world; and do not enter upon business, till you have earnestly sought the presence and blessing of God with and upon you. Consider well over, in your closets, the affairs of the day, the temptations you are like to be exposed to; and be earnest with God for his special presence to keep you: and oh! endeavour to get your hearts impressed with the love of Jesus, and you will be in less danger of being carried away by the temptations of the day. You read in the life of Col. Gardiner, that that great man had always his two hours with God in a morning. If his regiment was to march at four, he would be up at two. I doubt not but that frame he had in his closet often went with him through the day. I would not intimate by this, that it is the duty of every one of you, my friends, to spend two hours in your closets every morning: but I am satisfied, that if no care is taken to set apart some time to God, that person can never be in a flourishing condition as to his soul. Let me tell you, early rising is not only good for the health of the body, but for the health of the soul too, provided some time is spent with God, and communing with our own hearts. O my friends, strive, wrestle with God in your morning hours for his presence in the day, and labour to get love to Jesus enkindled in your breasts, before you go out of your closets, and watch over your frame in the day. Examine your ends and views, the principles and springs from whence you act. Watch over your deceitful hearts. Walk as in the presence of God. In fine, let the glory of Christ lie near your hearts, and be afraid of any thing that may dishonour God, and provoke his Spirit to withdraw from you. — Thus, in endeavouring to cultivate a spiritual frame and temper, and to walk with humility and circumspection, you will give evidence of your being Christians indeed; may expect the presence of God with you; and I doubt not but, through his divine blessing, you will find your souls in a thriving condition. I would now close these few hints with two remarks.
1. Hence we find, that it is not an easy thing to be a flourishing Christian. We must live much in the exercise of faith; we must be much upon our guard against sin; we must be much in our closets, seeking God by prayer, examining ourselves, and keeping a strict watch over our hearts, lest they should deceive us. A careless Christian cannot be a flourishing one. If you would grow up like tall cedars, and flourish as trees of righteousness, you must not be cold and lifeless, careless as to your frames and conversation. Like sentinels, you must be ever upon your watch; like persons running a race, you must be pressing towards the mark with all your might; and like soldiers, you must be prepared for the battle, and enter the field with your armour on, that you may get daily advantages over your spiritual enemies, and may go from strength to strength, from one degree of grace unto another. To be lively Christians, such as glorify God in every circumstance of life, requires grace to be much in exercise, much of the presence of God, and constant supplies out of our Redeemer’s inexhaustible fullness.
2. We should be each concerned to inquire how it is with our souls, and, if we are upon the decline, to attend unto the directions that have been given. Put off a matter of such vast importance no longer; but examine whether you are Christians indeed, or not, and in what circumstances, whether thriving or declining; and if you are upon the decline, let me entreat you to consider what has been said upon this subject, and think it high time to awake out of sleep. Oh! if you have any concern for the honour of Christ, any concern for the peace and welfare of your precious souls, labour to have things better with you. Let your loins be girt, and your lights burning; and may none of us be under the least alarm, when death approaches, but then, through grace, be enabled to say, We fought the good fight, we have finished our course; we have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for us a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give us at that day, and not to us only, but also to all those that love his appearing.