« AnteriorContinuar »
alarmed, Jesus Christ saw the evil: he marked a worm at the root, eating out the spirit and energy of their profession. When we have still many good things, yet he may have somewhat against us.
II. Let us consider the DANGER of this state of religious decay.
The most fatal ruins, are frequently not those which come suddenly; but those which come progressively -by little and little-from step to step. There is not a more fatal disease than a consumption: yet the consumptive patient is frequently so deceived respecting his disorder, because he is not in violent pain, and the progress of his disease is slow, that you can scarcely persuade him of his danger: consumptive persons will plan and contrive for months and years to come, when they have not a week to live! Decay in religion is of this nature: it is a spiritual consumption. If a house receive a shock from a stroke of lightning, it may still be sound in the main, and may not require to be pulled down: but if a house begin to decay at the foundation, there is little hope but it must come down.
Brethren! I say these things to warn you. In conducting our ministry, we must treat on its various topics: at one time we instruct, at another encourage, and at a third warn. I would now put you on your guard, and I would put myself on my guard, because we are in danger.
III. Since there is such Danger in religious decay, let us inquire what are the SIGNS of it. How shall we know as a Church, and how shall I know individually, when decay is coming upon us, so as to escape it?
Here it is impossible for me to enter into a full view of its symptoms: I can give but a few of those signs, whereby the loss of first love may be known. what I shall say on this point, I shall say both from observation of my own heart, and from observation in, my ministry.
1. Though a man in his first love, his first zeal, first spirit and savour, will not rest solely in his knowledge of divine truth; yet he will contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints' because he knows, that, by hearing and receiving the truths and principles of the Gospel, he has been enabled to 'escape the corruptions that are in the world through lust.' But, when he leaves his first love, you will find him RESTING IN and BUILDING ON HIS KNOWLEDGE OF DIVINE TRUTHS: whether a soul-transforming power accompanies them is another matter: he rests in his knowledge of them. Or he is satisfied, perhaps, with a regular walk; with keeping the company to which he has been accustomed, and talking the same language which he used to talk: while he may be cold as to the design and principle of the Christian walk and conversation. He will contend earnestly for the forms and particular opinions of the party to which he is united; but he is cold as to growing up into Christ Jesus in all things, and glorifying God in the world, and walking through it as Christ did, and overcoming it by a living faith.
2. The man, who has left his first love, is COLD IN SPIRITUAL, AND WARM IN SECULAR PURSUITS.
Before, his worldly affairs were subordinate: he did his business, and followed his profession as his duty: now his whole heart is occupied therein.
3. HE BEGINS TO BE VERY SUSCEPTIBLE OF TAKING OFFENCE. He cannot meet the servants of God as he used to do. He cannot now get over little stumblingblocks, which he finds in his way. He searches for plausible reasons for withdrawing himself from the servants of God. There is a mote in his brother's eye;' when alas! he sees not the 'beam that is in his own.' He shrinks back now from every difficulty. Every little thing now hurts him. Why is all this? he has left his first love. You will find him accomodating himself to the world; doing what he once
could not do; and associating with those with whom he once could not bear to associate. He is impatient, also, of reproof. Formerly his language was, Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and see if there be any wicked way in me,' and point out any symptoms of decay: to a friend or to his minister he would say, "If you see me do any thing wrong, pray speak to me: I charge you to be faithful: be not afraid to speak to me: tell me my error; for I am seeking the truth, and seeking to glorify God by a consistent profession of it." But now-tell him of an error, or of a danger which you perceive in his practice, he may perhaps preserve his temper, but you will soon find him grow shy of you: he has left his first love, and he does not choose to be reproved.
4. But there is a sign still more awful, and more significant of that death which is coming on such a soul: and that is, where a man, who once had the life and love of religion, can SPORT WITH THE CHURCH'S Wounds. Do you understand me? Where he can join the laugh of the profane at the Church of Christ, because of the weakness and folly that may be discerned in its Ministers or Professors; where he can be willing to listen to their objections, and support them, and thereby wound and injure the cause of Christ. He stumbles at weak things. 'Who is weak,' says St. Paul, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I am not offended?" I would heal the wounds: I would cover them with charity: Charity covereth a multitude of sins.'
Brethren! these are some of the signs of religious decay. Where these are found, depend on it that Satan, though not making an open assault, is yet secretly undermining the soul. "Remember, therefore,' says our Lord, 'from whence thou art fallen.' If you slight your privileges, remember that I will not suffer my Gospel to be trifled with: I will not
suffer my inestimable blessings to be slighted: 'I will come, and will remove thy candlestick out of its place."" Here is our danger. The danger of a Church is not from cruel tyrants, or a burning fiery furnace: the danger of a Church is, when Jesus Christ looks on, and says, 'I have somewhat against thee; and when he adds, 'I will come, and remove thy candlestick out of its place. This is the danger of a Church: and therefore, above all things, let us fear decay, and watch against it, lest we lose our light and our privileges.
IV. Let me now speak a word on the REMEDY which Christ suggests.
"Is it so, that I have somewhat against thee?" " it is as though he had said: "then I will give thee counsel. Thou art not dead. 'I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear' error. I am a witness for thee. Still, because 'as many as I love I rebuke and chasten,' I tell thee that thy first love is gone. I counsel thee to remember -remember that it is gone!"
This is one part of our remedy-RECOLLECTION.
"To know ourselves diseas'd is half our cure!"
There is quackery in diseases of the soul, as well as in those of the body: and the great encouragement to listen to it is, that it promises great things; an easier and a shorter mode of cure; so beguiling the simple. And we see at this day, that, when a decay cannot be denied in a person or in a Church, there comes in the spiritual quackery of some new-fangled doctrinesome new mode of worship-some new form of church government-some new interpretation of Scripture -and this is to heal a sin-sick soul! the wounds, which Christ alone can heal by his Word and Spirit, are to be healed by such pretended nostrums! and yet simple souls are so caught by the marvellous, that they think every point must be carried because the man promises such great things!
"But I only," says the Great Physician, "I only can counsel thee to purpose. I only can cure thee. I tell thee, therefore, to remember from whence thou art fallen. Remember the kindness of thy youththe love of thine espousals; when thou wentest after me into the wilderness-Remember from whence thou art fallen.' Remember thy backslidings from me: lament over them: confess them before me; and look to God to enable thee to take thy steps with more firmness, and to offer up thy prayers with more spirituality, and to do the first works' more cordially. Make thou the kingdom of God and his righteousness thy first object. I tell thee to remember that this is so necessary, that, if there be not remembrance and repentance, the decay will go on till you get into such a state, that I will come and remove thy candlestick out of its place.""
Take the counsel, which Christ gives to another Church in decay: Anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see: buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear:' and, 'as ye' first 'received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.' Recollect how you began. It was better with thee then, than Remember the simplicity of thy first steps. Remember the unity of thy heart at that time: though thou didst not know so much then as now, yet thy first love was the best love.
CHRIST, therefore, is our remedy, Brethren, for spiritual decay. Conceal not, I pray you, your case from him; for he wholly comprehends the disease, and can completely instruct us in the cure. The Great High Priest means our cure: therefore he does not trifle with the case. May God grant that we may not trifle with it! He counsels us to come to him for recovery; and there is no cure that he cannot effect, if thou returnest to him. He is Almighty and will fulfil all that