Personal Declension and Revival

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19th century classic by Octavius Winslow

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  • PERSONAL DECLENSION and Revival of Religion in the Soul

    A classic Christian work that every believer should read

    by Octavius Winslow 1841

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    CONTENTS

    Preface - 3 Chapter 1: Incipient Declension - 5 Chapter 2: Declension in Love - 25 Chapter 3: Declension in Faith - 40 Chapter 4: Declension in Prayer - 57 Chapter 5: Declension in Connection with Doctrinal Error - 71 Chapter 6: On Grieving the Spirit - 82 Chapter 7: The Fruitless and the Fruitful Professor - 94 Chapter 8: The Lord, the Restorer of His People - 109 Chapter 9: The Lord, the Keeper of His People - 121

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    PREFACE

    hat the subject on which this humble volume treats is vastly solemn, and deeply searching, every true believer in Jesus must acknowledge. The existing necessity for such a work has long impressed itself upon the Author's

    mind. While other and abler writers are employing their pens, either in defending the outposts of Christianity, or in arousing a slumbering church to an increased intensity of personal and combined action in the great work of Christian benevolence, he has felt that it might but be instrumental, in ever so humble a way, of occasionally withdrawing the eye of the believer from the dazzling and almost bewildering movements around him, and fixing it upon the state of HIS OWN PERSONAL RELIGION, he would be rendering the Christian church a service, not the less needed and important in her present elevated and excited position. It must be admitted, that the character and the tendencies of the age are not favourable to deep and mature reflection upon the hidden, spiritual life of the soul. Whirled along as the church of God is, in her brilliant path of benevolent enterprise, - deeply engaged in concerting and in carrying out new and far-reaching plans of aggression upon the dominion of sin, - and compelled in one hand to hold the spiritual sword in defence of the faith which, with the other, she is up-building, - but few energies are left, and but little time is afforded, for close, faithful, and frequent dealing with the personal and spiritual state of grace in the soul; which, in consequence of thus being overlooked and uncultivated, may fall into a state of the deepest and most painful declension. "They made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard have I not kept." (Song 1:6) It is, then, the humble design of the writer in the present work, for a while to withdraw the mind from the consideration of the mere externals of Christianity, and to aid the believer in answering the solemn and searching inquiry, - "What is the present spiritual state of my soul before God?" In the following pages he is exhorted to forget the Christian profession he sustains, the party badge he wears, and the distinctive name by which he is known among men, - to turn aside for a brief hour from all religious duties, engagements, and excitement, and to look this question fully and fairly in the face. With human wisdom and eloquence the Author has not seen fit to load and adorn his work: the subject presented itself to his mind in too solemn and dreadful an aspect for this. The ground he traversed he felt to be so holy, that he had need to put off the shoes from his feet, and to lay aside everything that was not in strict harmony with the spiritual character of his theme. That the traces of human imperfection may be found on every page, no one can be more conscious than the

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    Author, - no one more deeply humbled. Indeed, so affecting to his own mind has been the conviction of the feeble manner in which the subject is treated, that but for a deep sense of its vast importance, and the demand that exists for its discussion in almost any shape, he would more than once have withdrawn his book from the press. May the Spirit of God accompany its perusal with power and unction, and to Him, as unto the Father and the Son, shall be ascribed the glory!

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    CHAPTER 1 INCIPIENT DECLENSION

    "The backslider in heart." (Proverbs 14:14)

    f there is one consideration more humbling than another to a spiritually-minded believer, it is, that, after all God has done for him, - after all the rich displays of his grace, the patience and tenderness of his instructions, the

    repeated discipline of his covenant, the tokens of love received, and the lessons of experience learned, there should still exist in the heart a principle, the tendency of which is to secret, perpetual, and alarming departure from God. Truly, there is in this solemn fact, that which might well lead to the deepest self-abasement before Him. If, in the present early stage of our inquiry into this subject, we might be permitted to assign a cause for the growing power which this latent, subtle principle is allowed to exert in the soul, we would refer to the believer's constant forgetfulness of the truth, that there is no essential element in divine grace that can secure it from the deepest declension; that, if left to its self-sustaining energy, such are the hostile influences by which it is surrounded, such the severe assaults to which it is exposed, and such the feeble resistance it is capable of exerting, there is not a moment - splendid though its former victories may have been - in which the incipient and secret progress of declension may not have commenced and be going forward in the soul! There is a proneness in us to deify the graces of the Spirit. We often think of faith and love, and their kindred graces, as though they were essentially omnipotent; forgetting that though they undoubtedly are divine in their origin, spiritual in their nature, and sanctifying in their effects, they yet are sustained by no self-supporting power, but by constant communications of life and nourishment from Jesus; that, the moment of their being left to their inherent strength, is the moment of their certain declension and decay. We must here, however, guard a precious and important truth; that is, the indestructible nature of true grace. Divine grace in the soul can never really die; true faith can never utterly and finally fail. We are speaking now but of their decay. A flower may droop, and yet live: a plant may be sickly, and yet not die. In the lowest stage of spiritual declension, in the feeblest state of grace, there is a life that never dies. In the midst of all his startings aside, the ebb and the flow, the wandering and the restoring, the believer in Jesus is "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation." He cannot utterly fall; he cannot finally be lost. The immutability of God keeps him, - the covenant of grace keeps him, - the finished work of Jesus keeps him, - the indwelling of the Spirit keeps him, and keeps him to eternal glory. We say, then, true grace is indestructible grace; it can never die. But

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    it may decay; and to the consideration of this solemn and important subject, the reader's serious attention is now invited. We propose to exhibit the subject of Personal Declension of Religion in the Soul in some of its varied and prominent forms and phases, and to direct to those means which God has ordained and blessed to its restoration and revival. Believing, as we do, that no child of God ever recedes into a state of inward declension and outward backsliding, but by slow and gradual steps; and believing, too, that a process of spiritual decay may be going forward within the secret recesses of the soul, and not a suspicion or a fear be awakened in the mind of the believer; we feel it of the deepest moment that this state should first be brought to view in its incipient and concealed form. May the Lord the Spirit fill the writer's and the reader's mind with light, the heart with lowliness, and raise and fix the eye of faith simply and solely upon Jesus, as we proceed in the unfolding of a theme so purely spiritual and so deeply heart-searching! We commence with a brief exposition of a doctrine which must be regarded as forming the groundwork of our subject; that is, THE LIFE OF GOD IN THE SOUL OF MAN. The believer in Jesus is a partaker of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). He is "born of the Spirit;" Christ dwells in him by faith; and this constitutes his new and spiritual life. A single but emphatic expression of the apostle's, unfolds the doctrine and confirms the fact, "Christ in you (Col 1:27)." It is not so much that the believer lives, as that Christ lives in him. Thus the apostle expresses it: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me." Do we look at the history of Paul as illustrative of the doctrine? Behold the grand secret of his extraordinary life. He lived unreservedly for Christ; and the spring of it was, Christ lived spiritually in him. This it was that rendered him so profound in wisdom, rich in knowledge, bold in preaching, undaunted in zeal, unwearied in toil, patient in suffering, and successful in labour; - Christ lived in him. And this forms the high and holy life of every child of God; - "Christ who is our life." To him, as the covenant head and mediator of his people, it was given to have life in himself, that he might give eternal life to as many as the Father had given him. Christ possesses this life (John 5:26); Christ communicates it (John 5:25); Christ sustains it (John 6:57); and Christ crowns it with eternal glory (John 17:24). A peculiar characteristic of the life of God in the soul, is, that it is concealed. "Your life is hid with Christ in God." It is a hidden life. Its nature, its source, its actings, its supports are veiled from the observation of men. "The world knows us not." It knew not Jesus when he dwelt in the flesh, else it would not have crucified the Lord of life and glory. Is it any wonder that it knows him not, dwelling, still deeper veiled, in the hearts of his members? It crucified Christ