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Having, in the three foregoing papers, pointed out some of the causes of spiritual declension, 1 come now to inquire into the means of revival. But before any thing can be said by way of direction, two or three things must be premised.
1. That in the use of all means we consider them but as means, place no dependence upon them, but entirely upon the Spirit of God as the first cause. We can of our own accord find the way out of God's path, but if left to ourselves we shall never find the way in again,
2. If we have so backslidden from the Lord as to live in the indulgence of any known sin, whether of omission or commission, that we immediately put away these idols, and that without reserve God will not hear us while iniquity is regarded in our hearts. If any or all of those things pointed out in the foregoing papers as causes of declension, are so indeed, 'those causes must be lamented and forsaken, or depend upon it the effects will not be removed.
3. In whatever mode we have departed from God, that there be a real desire of returning to him again. Without this, all directions will be in vain, and all means without effect. Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. It may be we are accustomed to live without close communion with God, and are almost contented with such a kind of life. Perhaps we lay our accounts with going through life without habitual close walking with God. If so, I only say this, Let us not at the same time lay our accounts with dwelling for ever with him at last.
But if the above three things may be supposed, there are then other scriptural directions which may be given. That which I shall insist upon in this paper, is as follows: That we closely con sider the evil nature of that sin which is committed after our conversion to God.—As our first return to God begins with conviction of sin, so must every other return. The ordinary means of obtaining conviction of sin, together with a mournful sense of it, is by seriously and closely reflecting upon its evil nature, and aggravating circumstances. I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.—Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loath yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities, and for your abominations.
Perhaps we cannot obtain a more affecting representation of the evil of our backslidings from God, than that which is given us by the prophet Jeremiah, in his address to Israel, contained in the second chapter; and as advice from such a quarter comes with divine authority. I do not think I can do better than to refer the reader to the first thirteen verses of that chapter, on which i shall now make a few remarks.
From this affecting passage we may observe four things in particular, which are represented as aggravating those sins which are committed after we have known the Lord; they are committed in violation of the most solemn vows, without any, the least provocation, are expressive of the blackest ingratitude, and the. most extreme and singular folly.
First: They are committed in violation of all those solemn vowi and covenant engagements which we made and into which we entered, at our first conversion. Not only was there a covenant between the Father and the Son before time, but as well there is a covenant between Christ and his people in time.
Conversion is a marriage, wherein (with reverence be it spoken) Christ resigns up himself with all he is and has to us, and we resign ourselves with all we are and have to him. Such a union is here alluded to. The love we bore to Christ at that time might fitly be called, the love of our espousals. Was there not a time when we scarcely wished for any other pleasure than what was to be enjoyed in communion with himself and his saints; when his name was as ointment poured fourth; when we loved the very image of it? And when we have seen those who we thought bore most of that in their spirit and conduct, has it not been as though we had seen an angel of God? Was there not a time when closet exercises were reckoned our highest privileges; when the return of public ordinances was waited for with eager expectation; in short, when we took Christ's cause for our cause, his people for our people, his will for our law, his glory for our end, and himself for our portion? Now these were times from whence we may each say, Thy vows, O God, are upon me! But have we not since then strangely forsaken him? How is this? Did we love him too well then? Is he not as worthy now as then? If a prince espouse a poor miserable outcast, and give himself with all he is and has to her, and only require her heart in return, shall she refuse him that? shall she be the first that shall be dissatisfied? must she go after other lovers, and that in spite of all her solemn vows? And yet may each backslider say, 'Thus it has been with me! O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, thou art My Lord: thou hast taken him for thy lawgiver, and thy portion; how is it that thou shouldest bow down to other lords, and seek satisfaction in that which is not God?'
Secondly: Whatever departures from God have taken place, they have been without any provocation whatever, on his part. What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me? This is a question that ought to cut us to the very spul, and open every spring of sensibility and self-abhorrence! While we were in open rebellion against him, was he wanting in forbearance? When he saw us in our impoverished and ruined 'condition, and gave his own Son to die for us, did he act an unfeeling part towards us? Was it hard on our side that Christ should be made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him? Since we have been engaged in his service, has he been a hard master? Has his yoke been galling to us? Did he ever prove to us a barren wilderness, or a land of drought? Was ever the path of obedience a barren path? Is it better with us now than formerly? Has he been a churlish father to us? Did he ever refuse us free access to him in a time of need? When we have asked for bread, did he ever give us a stone? When he has smitten us, was it not always with a mixture of mercy, and all to do us good in the latter end? Whenever we have returned to him with our whole heart, has he not been always ready to receive us, and to bury all in forgetfulness P— Methinks 1 hear him appeal to the very rocks and mountains, (as being less insensible than we,) for the equity and goodness of his cause: Hear, 0 ye mountains, the Lord's controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the Lord hath a controversy .with hit people, and he will plead with Israel: O my people, what have I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee? tettify against me! Alas ! what shall we say unto the Lord ? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? 0 Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us belongeth confusion of face as it is this day.
Thirdly: Sins after conversion are attended with circumstances of peculiar and horrible ingratitude,—This was a part of God's charge against Israel. He had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, had led them through the wilderness, through a dangerous, barren, and lonesome wilderness; a land of deserts and of pits; a land of drought, and of the shadow of death ; a land where no man passed through, and where no man dwelt. He had brought them also into a plentiful country; but they had polluted it, and even made his heritage an abomination. It is true, God has not done the self-same things for us, as he did for them: he has not given Egypt for us, nor Ethiopia for our ransom; but he has given what is of infinitely greater account—his own blood! Neither has he redeemed us from Egyptian thraldom; but he has delivered us from the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son. We never were supported by miracle, in the dangerous, barren, and lonesome deserts of Arabia; but we have been led and supplied by a kind hand, both in a way of providence and grace, through a wilderness equally lonesome and barren, and much more dangerous. We never were possessed of the land of Canaan, that plentiful country, that rest for the weary Israelites; but we were born in a country but little inferior to it, even as to the enjoyments of this life; and the rest of gospel privileges into which we are entered, with a glorious inheritance into which we hope to enter, abundantly transcend every thing of that sort, and lay us under far greater obligations. If we have any thing ingenuous left in us, surely a spirit and conduct that has slighted and dishonoured a God of such love as this, must, on reflection, deeply wound us.
Fourthly: Such departures from God are expressive of the most extreme and singular/offy. The Lord charged Israel with folly; and such it doubtless was. We should think so of any people, who, in want of water, should remove their tents from an overflowing fountain, and promise themselves a greater fulness by settling in-a desert, and hewing out cisterns, which, after all, could hold no water. And yet this is no more than we have done, as well as Israel. We have sought happiness in the creature, to the neglect of God ; and all created comforts, when possessed in that way, are hot broken cisterns. We have found them so; let Hi be ashamed of our folly, and return to the fountain of living waters.
Departing from God, and indulging ourselves in sinning against him, is a kind of exchange, but it is a foolish one; it is an exchange of liberty for drudgery and slavery; of peace of conscience, for bitter remorse; of joyfulness and gladness of heart, for sorrow and anguish: and of abundance of all things, for hunger, thirst, nakedness, and want of all things. It is a being weary of the government of the Prince of peace, whose yoke is easy, and whose burden is light, and a putting our necks under the iron yoke of a tyrant, which tends to our destruction.
Israel was not only charged with folly, but with singular folly. Pass over the Isles of Chittim, saith the Lord, and see, and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing. Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit! There are some foolish people in the world, who neveF know when they are well, but will always be changing and exchanging, though they always continue to lose by it. To be compared to these were enough to shame us; but this is not the worst. Notwithstanding the fickleness of the human mind in lesser matters, they seem in general each nation to be firm to their gods, even though they were no gods; so firm, I suppose, that if they could have exchanged wood for silver, or stone for gold, they would not have complied. But Israel, the only people upon the earth, who had a God worth cleaving to, Israel must be the only people who desire to change! Well may it be added, Be astonished, 0 ye heavens, at this, and be ye horribly afraid f Shall the people of the only true God, and only they, prove untrue!