November 2: Declension In Prayer

“And all things, whatever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.” Matthew 21:22

Draw near, then, seeking soul, with boldness; not the boldness of a presumptuous, self-righteous man, but that of one chosen, called, pardoned, and justified. Draw near with the lowly boldness of a child—with the humble confidence of a son.

Dear are you to your Father. Sweet is your voice to Him. Precious is your person, accepted in His Beloved. You can not come too boldly—you can not come too frequently—you can not come with too large requests. You are coming to a King, that King your Father, that Father viewing you in His beloved Son.

Oh, hang not back. Stand not afar off. He now holds out the golden scepter, and says, “Come near; what is your request? Come with your temporal want. Come with your spiritual need. Ask what you will, it shall be granted you. I have an open hand, and a large heart.” Is it your desire—”Lord, I want more grace to glorify You. I want more simplicity of mind, and singleness of eye. I want a more holy, upright, honest walk. I want more meekness, patience, lowliness, submission. I want to know more of Jesus, to see more of His glory, to feel more of His preciousness, and to live more simply upon His fullness. I want more of the sanctifying, sealing, witnessing, and anointing influences of the Spirit”? Blessed, holy desires! It is the Spirit making intercession in you according to the will of God; and entering into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, the Lord will fulfill the desires of your heart, even to the half of kingdom.

Watch diligently against the least declension in the spirit of prayer. If there be declension here, there will also be declension in every part and department of the work of the Spirit in your soul. It is prayer that keeps every grace of the Spirit in active, holy, and healthy exercise. It is the stream, so to speak, that supplies refreshing vigor and nourishment to all the plants of grace.

It is true, that the fountain-head of all spiritual life and “grace to help in time of need,” is Christ; “for it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell.” And Paul’s encouragement to the Philippians was, “My God shall supply all your need, according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” But the channel through which all grace comes is prayer—ardent, wrestling, importunate, believing prayer. Suffer this channel to be dry—permit any object to narrow or close it up—and the effect will be a withering and decay of the life of God in the soul.

Guard, then, against the slightest decline of prayer in the soul. If prayer—family prayer, social prayer, most of all, closet prayer, is declining with you, no further evidence is needed of your being in a backsliding state of mind. There may not yet have been the outward departure, but you are in the way to it—and nothing but a return to prayer will save you.

Oh, what alarm, what fearfulness and trembling, should this thought occasion in a child of God, “I am on my way to an awful departure from God! Such is the state of my soul at this moment, such my present state of mind, such the loss of my spirituality, such the hold which the world has upon my affections, there is no length in sin to which I may not now go, there is no iniquity which I may not now commit.

The breakers are full in view, any my poor weak vessel is heading to and rapidly nearing them.” What can shield you from the commission of that sin, what can keep you from wounding Jesus afresh, what can preserve you from foundering and making shipwreck of your faith, but an immediate and fervent return to prayer.

Prayer is your only safety. Prayer, for grace to help in your time of need. Prayer, for reviving grace, for quickening, restraining, sanctifying grace. Prayer, to be kept from falling, to be held up in the slippery paths. Prayer, for the lowly mind, for the contrite spirit, for the broken heart, for the soft, and close, and humble walk with God.

October 21: Chilled Affections

“Why 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.” Jeremiah 2:31, 32

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 where 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 had 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 sincerely 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 a 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.”

Not only in the declension of Divine love in the soul, does God become less 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.

October 15

“Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found your works perfect before God.” Revelation 3:2

AN incipient state of declension does not involve any alteration in the essential character of divine grace, but is a secret decay of the health, vigor, and exercise of that grace in the soul. As in the animal frame, the heart loses nothing of its natural function, when, through disease, it sends but a faint and languid pulsation through the system; so in the spiritual constitution of the believer, divine grace may be sickly, feeble, and inoperative, and yet retain its character and its properties. The pulse may beat faintly, but still it beats; the seed may not be fruitful, but it “lives and abides forever;” the divine nature may be languid, but it can never assimilate or coalesce with any other, and must always retain its divinity untainted and unchanged. And yet, without changing its nature, divine grace may decline to an alarming extent in its power and exercise. It may be sickly, drooping, and ready to die; it may become so enfeebled through its decay, as to present an ineffectual resistance to the inroads of strong corruption; so low that the enemy may ride roughshod over it at his will; so inoperative and yielding, that sloth, worldliness, pride, carnality, and their kindred vices, may obtain an easy and unresisted conquest. This decay of grace may be advancing, too, without any marked decline in the spiritual perception of the judgment, as to the beauty and fitness of spiritual truth.

The loss of spiritual enjoyment, not of a spiritual perception, of the loveliness and harmony of the truth shall be the symptom that betrays the true condition of the soul. The judgment shall lose none of its light, but the heart much of its fervor; the truths of revelation, especially the doctrines of grace, shall occupy the same prominent position as to their value and beauty, and yet the influence of these truths may be scarcely felt. The Word of God shall be assented to; but as the instrument of sanctification, of abasement, of nourishment, the believer may be an almost utter stranger to it; yes, he must necessarily be so, while this process of secret declension is going forward in his soul.

This incipient state of declension may not involve any lowering of the standard of holiness, and yet there shall be no ascending of the heart, no reaching forth of the mind, towards a practical conformity to that standard. The judgment shall acknowledge the divine law, as embodied in the life of Christ, to be the rule of the believer’s walk; and yet to so low and feeble a state may vital godliness have declined in the soul, there shall be no panting after conformity to Christ, no breathing after holiness, no “resistance unto blood, striving against sin.” Oh, it is an alarming condition for a Christian man, when the heart contradicts the judgment, and the life belies the profession!—when there is more knowledge of the truth than experience of its power—more light in the understanding than grace in the affections—more pretension in the profession than holiness and spirituality in the walk! And yet to this sad and melancholy state it is possible for a Christian professor to be reduced. How should it lead the man of empty notions, of mere creed, of lofty pretension, of cold and lifeless orthodoxy, to pause, search his heart, examine his conscience, and ascertain the true state of his soul before God!