Before bed last night I picked up Personal Declension (again) by Octavius Winslow. The work deals with backsliding. He, like J.C. Philpot, offer the church experimental help in understanding the spiritual life of the Christian.
A few selections from chapter one follow:
When a professing man can proceed with his accustomed religious duties, strictly, regularly, formally, and yet experience no enjoyment of God in them, no filial nearness, no brokenness and tenderness, and no consciousness of sweet return, he may suspect that his soul is in a state of secret and incipient backsliding from God. Satisfying and feeding his soul – if feeding it may be called – with a lifeless form; what stronger symptom needs he of his real state? A healthy, growing state of religion in the soul demands more for its nourishment and support than this. A believer panting for God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, grace thriving, the heart deeply engaged in spiritual duties, lively, prayerful, humble, and tender, ascending in its frame and desires, – a state marked by these features cannot be tied down to a lifeless, spiritless form of religious duties. These were but husks to a healthy state of the life of God in the soul. It wants more. It will hunger and thirst, and this spiritual longing must be met. And nothing can satisfy and satiate it but living upon Christ, the bread and the water of life. “I am the bread of life.” “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” “My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” The professing man that goes all his days without this nourishment, thus starving his soul, may well exclaim, “My leanness, my leanness!” Oh, how solemn to such are the words of our Lord, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you (Jn 6:53).”
Essentially connected with the discovery and the confession, there must be the entire mortification and abandonment of the cause of the soul’s secret declension. Apart from this, there can be no true revival of the work of Divine grace in the heart. The true spiritual mortification of indwelling sin, and the entire forsaking of the known cause, whatever it is found to be, of the heart’s declension, constitute the true elements of a believer’s restoration to the joys of God’s salvation. And when we speak of the mortification of sin, let not the nature of this sacred work be misunderstood. It has been in the case of many, why may it not in yours? There may exist all the surface-marks of mortification, and still the heart remain a stranger to the work. An awakening sermon, an alarming providence, or a startling truth, may for a moment arrest and agitate the backsliding soul. There may be an opening of the eyelid, a convulsive movement of the spiritual frame, which, to a superficial observer, may wear the appearance of a real return to consciousness, of a true waking up to new life and vigour of the slumbering soul, and yet these may be but the transient and fitful impulses of a sickly and a drowsy spirit. The means of grace, too, may be returned to – the secret declension felt, deplored and acknowledged, but the hidden cause remaining unmortified and unremoved, all appearance of recovery quickly and painfully subsides. It was but a transient, momentary shock, and all was still; the heavy eyelid but feebly opened, and closed again; the “goodness” that promised so fair, was but as the morning cloud and the early dew. And the reason is found in the fact, that there was no true mortification of sin. And so I may repair to a plant withering and drooping in my garden; I may employ every external means for its revival; I may loosen the earth about it, water, and place it in the warm sunbeam; but if the while I had not discovered and removed the hidden cause of its decay – if I had not know that a worm was secretly feeding at the root, and, in ignorance of this, had proceeded with my surface-work of restoration, what marvel, though the morning sunbeam, and the evening dew, and the loosened earth, had produced a momentary freshness and life, that yet my plant had ceased to exist, had withered and died? Thus may it be with a declining believer. The external means of revival may be sedulously employed, means of grace diligently used and even multiplied, but all to no real and permanent effect, while a worm secretly feeds at the root; and until the hidden cause of decay be mortified, removed, and utterly extirpated, the surface revival does but end in a profounder sleep, and a more fearful deception of the soul.
Commence at the beginning; go as a sinner to Jesus; seek the quickening, healing, sanctifying influence of the Spirit; and let this be your prayer, presented, and urged until answered, at the footstool of mercy: “O Lord, revive thy work! Quicken me, O Lord! Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation!” In answer to thy petition, “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth;” and thy song shall be that of the church, “My Beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. The fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”