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What I would more distinctly mean is this, that when smaller commissions of sin, or omissions of duty, begin to pass with less indignation against ourselves than we formerly experienced, when they will even be palliated and excused, then is our conscience losing its tenderness and sensibility; then is the evil of sin weakened in our estimation, and then is the authority of God diminished. It is then that there are clear indications of a spiritual decay, and if a remedy be not speedily applied, the last state of that soul is worse than the beginning.
Again: Decay in religion, is to be discovered when there is a desire to be conformed to this world.
The most of my hearers have of necessity some worldly engagements which it is their bounden duty diligently to perform. Many have much of their time occupied with worldly pursuits, neither are they at liberty to withdraw from a post which, though painful and difficult, God has evidently assigned them. But when we needlessly multiply our worldly concerns, we must expect to suffer loss in those which are spiritual. Our Saviour, in the parable of the sower, tells us, that the cause of vast multitudes not bringing forth fruit to perfection is, that the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. A man who loads his feet with thick clay, or suffers a long garment to impede the motion of them, does not wonder that he makes an inadequate progress in a race; and as little can it be wondered at, that a person, encumbered unnecessarily, or beyond a due proportion, with the cares or pleasures of this life, make not his profiting to appear in the ways of God.
One of the most touching exhortations of the Apostle Paul, my friends, is that which furnishes me with an argument on this very topic. “ Brethren, I beseech you by the mercies of God, that you present yourselves a living sacrifice-holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service, and be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed in the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that perfect, holy and acceptable will of God.” I need hardly say, that one leading object which I have ever had in view, has been to impress upon the minds of those who call themselves Christians the characteristics of their high vocation; to persuade them that the friendship of the world involves a state of enmity with God; that the people of the Lord must, by the very circumstances of their condition, be a separate people; that they must come out from the world and live above it, because they are not their own, they are bought with a price, even with the precious blood of Christ, and therefore called upon by every principle of gratitude and love, “to glorify him in their bodies and spirits, which are his.” By the terms of the baptismal covenant, they are pledged to renounce not only the devil and all his works, but also the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh, and to rise from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness. How stands the case with you, my brethren? To the piercing eye of God, which reaches down to the very deepest recesses of the heart, there needs no stronger proof of a spiritual decay than where there rises in the bosom a disposition to be conformed to this world. Oh, how many there are who seek with the very nicety of exactest measurement to tell how far they may tread, and yet hope to maintain a Christian standing, and clear their easy consciences of the guilt of compromising the credit and the interests of religion. Let an individual once desire to walk thus near the line which separates the Church of the living God from an unbelieving and a deceitful world, and in that man, or that woman's bosom, decay in religion has already made a fearful progress.
Again: Decay in religion is clearly discoverable, when we find ourselves less and less disposed to exert ourselves for God.
It is often, nay almost invariably experienced, that in the freshness and vigour of a new profession, there is an intense desire to be found active in every thing which is calculated to advance the glory of God. And while this feeling is continued, it may generally be considered as one of those circumstances which accompany a growing state of religion in the soul. For where the heart continues right with God, it will always be saying, "what shall I render unto the Lord, for all the benefits which he hath done unto me?" And where the heart is right with God, it will ever be carrying out the spirit which animates such a question. No labour will be grudged, no sacrifice will be accounted great, if God's cause can only be advanced. But if the self-denial which once appeared scarcely worthy of thought, is now become a burden; if we have been led away by the sophistry of worldly men, even to doubt the lawfulness of some great method of doing good; if, under the strong temptations of the devil, we suffer ourselves to be led away by the idea that by this plan of good, and by that plan of
good, some worldly occupation is to be injured; and if from considerations of this kind, and others of some other description, we suffer ourselves to relax in the efforts which we once made in the service of God, there is very fearful reason to apprehend, that at the bottom of all this disinclination to be zealous in God's service, will be found a decline in religious sensibility. Were we right we should never think that we had attained any thing, while any thing remained to be attained; neither should we think that any thing was done, while any thing remained undone. In all the vitality of spiritual religion, we forget comparatively that which is behind, and reach forward to that which is before; and our grief will always be, that we could not do a thousand times more for Him, who hath done and suffered so much for us. If we faint and grow weary in well doing; if we suffer any thing whatever, to cool our zeal, and to diminish our efforts in the cause of the Lord, and of perishing souls, it is plain and indisputable that our spiritual health is most fearfully on the decline.
I might mention other symptoms of spiritual decay, but lest my remarks should be too protracted, I have only to speak of one more particular, which discovers the sad and terrible traces of decline in religion. I mean that which in a certain sense may be said to embrace the whole of the subject, viz:—the want of progress of religion.
Often has it been told you, that in religion there is no such thing as a stationary point. How sublimely does the wise man tell the story of the Christian's progress when he says—“the path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” And how emphatic is the
exhortation—"grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ;" and how encouraging the example—“this one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” If in your experience, brethren, there are none of these things; no increasing light; no growth in grace; no reaching towards the mark; believe me, there are symptoms of decay which may end in spiritual death and everlasting ruin. Be persuaded, I pray you, to examine into these matters; it will be wholesome to your souls; it may break in upon the slumbers in which you are indulging; and it may wake you ere your sleep becomes the eternal ruin of the second death.
I am earnest on this point with you, my friends, because it is so closely connected with the welfare of your never-dying souls. Bear with me, therefore, while I offer to your consideration
II. The awful danger of this decaying condition.
I shall present this danger to your minds in but one aspect; its deceptive, flattering, yet ruinous character.
Decay in religion may, and in multitudes of cases does exist, where to all external appearances there are many indications of spiritual animation. And to show how correct I may be in this statement, I can bring an illustration of my subject from one of the most touching exhibitions which serves to mark the frailty and uncertainty of our mortal condition. I have seen, and you have seen, for, alas, the spectacle is of daily occurence, the young and delicate female,