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will in vain be expected to be pure. To watch our words and actions to the neglect of our hearts, will be unavailing.
III. Let us consider THE DANGER WE ARE IN, OF DECLINING FROM THE LOVE OF GOD. The serious tone of caution with which the precept is delivered, is expressive of this sentiment: it is only in cases of great danger, that we are charged to take good heed.
The love of God is a plant of heavenly extraction; but, being planted in an unfriendly soil, it requires to be well guarded and watered. We are not only surrounded with objects which attract our affections, and operate as rivals to the blessed God, but have a propensity to depart from him. Whether we consider ousrelves as individuals or as societies, this will be found to be the case.
In the early stages of the Christian life, love is frequently ardent. The first believing views of the grace of the gospel, furnish matter of joyful surprise; and a flow of grateful affection is the natural consequence: I love the Lord because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. At this season, we can scarcely conceive it possible to forget him who hath done such great things for us: but if twenty years of cares and temptations pass over us, without producing this effect, it will be happy for
In declining from our first love, we are seldom sensible of it, till some of its effects appear; as neglecting the more spiritual exercises of religion, or contenting ourselves with attending to them as a matter of form, without enjoying God in them, or trifling with those sins from which we should heretofore have started back with horror. Our friends often perceive it, and feel concerned on account of it, before we are aware of it ourselves; and happy is it for us, if, by their timely admonitions, or by any other means, we are awakened from our lethargy, and saved from some greater fall, to the dishonour of God and the wounding of our future peace.
I have heard this departure from our first love spoken of as a matter of course, or as that which must be expected. Nay, I have heard it compared to the time when Isaac was weaned, at which Abraham made a feast! Some old religious professors, who have become sufficiently cold and carnal themselves, will thus endeav
our to reconcile young Christians to the same state of mind; telling them, with a cunning sort of smile, that they are at present on the mount of enjoyment, but must expect to come down. And true it is, that love, though it may become deeper and better grounded, may not always operate with that tenderness of feeling as it did at first. A change in the constitution, from an advance in years, will account for this. Many things relating to the present world which, in our youth, will produce tears, will not have this effect as we advance in life, though they may still lie with weight upon our minds. But to confound this with religious declension, coldness, and carnality, and to endeavour to reconcile young Christians to it, is erroneous and mischievous. So did not the apostles in their intercourse with young Christians. When Barnabas visited the young Christians at Antioch, he saw the grace of God, and was glad; and, instead of leading them to expect a state of declension to follow this their first love, he exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would CLEAVE unto the Lord. The great head of the church had somewhat against the Ephesians, because they had left their first love.
There is no necessity, in the nature of things, for the abatement of our love, or zeal, or joy. The considerations which formerly excited these feelings have not lost their force. It is as true and as important as ever, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; and that he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him; and, excepting what the first impression derived from its novelty, would, if we had not declined in love, be as interesting to us. So far from our regard for these and other truths being diminished, there is ground for its being increased. Our first views of Christ and his gospel were very defective; if we follow on to know the Lord, we shall know him in a much greater degree. The path of the just, if scripturally pursued, will be as the shining light, shining more and more unto the perfect day. This was the course which the apostles pursued toward the Christians of their times: And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge, and in all judgment.—We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward
each other aboundeth.-Beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. The Apostle himself did not relax, as he drew toward the end of his course, but forgetting the things that were behind, and reaching forth unto those that were before, he pressed toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
To decline in our love is practically saying, that we were once more spiritually-minded, more tender in conscience, and more devoted to God, than was necessary; that we have not found the religion of Jesus so interesting as we expected, and therefore, have been obliged to have recouse for happiness to our former pursuits; and that what our old companions told us at the outset, that our zeal would soon abate, and that we should return again to them, was true. O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me!
If we be in danger of declining as individuals, we are not less so as societies. Societies, being composed of individuals, a number of backsliding individuals will soon diffuse their spirit, and produce a backsliding people. It was to a people that the words of Joshua were addressed. That generation of Israelites who went up with him into Canaan, were distinguished by their love to God. They had seen his judgments upon their unbelieving fathers, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness, and had learned wisdom. It was of them that the Lord spake by Jeremiah, saying, I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Israel was holiness unto the Lord, and the first-fruits of his increase.— But the very next generation relapsed into idolatry: Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord that he had done for Israel. But when they were gathered to their fathers, there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. Even before the death of their venerable leader, the young people had begun to tamper with idolatry. It was on this account, that he assembled the tribes in Shechem, and so solemnly put it to Vor. VII.
them to choose, on that day, whom they would serve; and that when they answered, God forbid that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, he added, Ye cannot serve the Lord; for he is an holy God: he is a jealous God, he will not forgive your transgressions, nor your sins. This was telling them, that they could not serve the Lord and Balaam. Stung with this suggestion, they answered, Nay, but we WILL serve the Lord. Then said Joshua, Put away the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel!
This interesting account furnishes a picture of human nature. The same things have been acted over again in the world. Religion has rarely been preserved in its purity for many generations. Such is the tendency to degenerate, that the greatest and most important reformations have commonly begun to decline, when they who have been principally engaged in them have been gathered to their fathers.
Even the apostles themselves, inspired as they were, could not preserve the churches which they had raised from degeneracy.The Lord had many things against those seven in Asia, to which the Apocalypse was addressed. We know also, that the great body of professing Christians, in a few centuries, were carried away by the antichristian apostasy; that the descendants of the Reformers have mostly renounced their principles; and that the same is true of the descendants of the Puritans and Non-conformists. Each of these cases furnishes a loud call to us to take good heed unto ourselves, that we love the Lord our God.
IV. Let us conclude with A FEW DIRECTIONS AS TO THE MEANS OF PROMOTING THE LOVE of God. It has been observed already, that love is a tender plant, requiring to be both guarded and watered. It will not thrive among the weeds of worldly lusts. We cannot serve the Lord in this way if we would serve him, we must put away our idols, and incline our hearts unto the Lord God of Israel. Beware of the love of the world. He that loveth the world, the love of God is not in him. Beware of living in the indulgence of any sin; any habitual sin is inconsistent with the love of God. It was on this principle, that holy David, after declaring the omniscience and omnipresence of God, invoked his scrutiny:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know`my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Wicked actions have been found in good men, who have lamented them, and been forgiven; but a wicked way, is inconsistent with a state of grace, vitiating the very principle of religion, and turning the whole into hypocrisy. Transgression of this nature must lead to perdition. It is an affecting consideration, how many professors of religion have been found, either before, or soon after, they have left the world, to have lived in private drunkenness, cencealed lewdness, or undetected fraud.
But it is not merely by avoiding those things which are inconsis tent with the love of God, that we shall promote it; we must also attend to those that cherish it. It is by being conversant with the mind of God, as revealed in his word; by drawing near to him in private prayer; by associating with the most spiritual of his people; by thinking upon his name, especially as displayed in the person and work of Christ, that the love of God will be cherished. As our minds are insensibly assimilated by the books we read, and the company we keep, so it will be in reading the book of God, and associating with his people; and as the glory of God is manifested in the highest degree in the face of Jesus Christ, this is the principal theme for our meditation. It is by our repairing to the cross, that the love of God will be kept alive, and renewed when ready to expire.