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HINDERANCES OF GROWTH IN GRACE, AND SYMPTOMS
OF SPIRITUAL DECLINE.
1. Growth in grace is often prevented by the influence of worldly relatives and companions.—2. By embarking too deeply in worldly business.-3. By approximations to fraudulence, for the sake of gain.-4. By devoting too much time to worldly amusements.-5. By immoderate attachment to any earthly object.-6. By indulging in acrimonious controversies, whether religious or political.—7. By attendance on an unbelieving and unfaithful minister.-8. By the languid and formal observance of religious duties.9. By the frequent omission of religious duties.-10. By shunning the society and religious converse of Christian friends.-11. By relapses into known sin.
To prevent any dangerous bodily disease is of much greater importance, than to know how it may be cured. For this purpose it is necessary that the causes which produce it, and the symptoms of its first approach, be carefully studied and distinctly known. -The case is similar in regard to the maladies of the soul. To secure its healthy state and growth in grace, ought to be the chief concern of
Christian ; and with a view to this, he should endeavour to know, and to be on his guard against, every source of spiritual decay. The causes from which this originates are both numerous and various; and those which operate in one particular case, may have no influence in another. Still, however, there are certain causes which commonly produce this painful disease ; and which, therefore, demand more especial
attention. In attempting to set these before you, I shall couple the symptoms of declining in growth in grace, along with the hinderances of its advancement. They frequently run into each other; and the cause of the disease at length becomes a symptom of its existence. To prevent repetition, therefore, of the same particulars, though they might have been made two chapters, they are thus treated in one.
1. One of the causes which often first operates in preventing growth in grace is, the influence of worldly relatives and companions. The company with which men habitually associate, has a powerful influence on their general character. Imperceptibly, and almost unavoidably, they become assimilated to them, in their language and gestures, their aversions and predilections, their habits and demeanourWhen the children of God, therefore, are doomed to dwell with carnal relatives and connections, and to hear from their lips, day after day, nothing except what savours of the world; it can hardly fail to have a secularizing influence on their minds. Like a dead weight attached to them, it draws them downwards, and by degrees lessens their relish for religious society and converse, and unfits them for engaging with liveliness in devotional exercises.The same effects result from their associating with worldly companions, who do not belong to their household. Whether they be led to this from accident, or necessity in prosecuting their business, or imprudent choice; the result is commonly hurtful. In some instances they may be instrumental in doing good to
the souls of such persons; but when this is not their direct aim, and steadily kept in view, they far oftener catch harm from them. At first they may not be sensible of this, and for a time may disrelish the earthly conversation of these associates; but by degrees it will become less offensive to them, till at length they can join it without reluctance as their habitual theme. -Such a course unavoidably must check their progress in holiness. In proportion as a relish for it is produced, a want of inclination for holy society, holy conference, and holy employments will grow upon them, till their religious declension become visible and alarming. And even before it has proceeded thus far, a marked preference for worldly companions, though they may not be openly wicked, is but too sure a symptom that spiritual decay has commenced.
How loudly does this call on the people of God, to be on their guard against forming family connections with those who are obviously without the profession and form of godliness! Such unions, entered into from worldly motives, may cost them dear, and cause them to go on their way heavenward halting and mourning. How should it awaken those who are already in these circumstances, to a sense of their danger, and induce them to double their diligence in improving the means of grace, both in secret and in public, that they may be preserved from the deadening influence to which they are daily exposed ! How ought this to excite God's children to shun all familiar intimacies and friendships with the men of
the world! Conducive though some of them may be for a time to their honour, in the reckoning of blinded mortals; they shall ultimately find that they have been dishonouring to Christ, and injurious to their own souls.
Let such persons listen to the heavenly monition: “Know ye not that the friendship of this world is enmity with God ? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world, is the enemy of God.”* “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers : for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness ? and what communion hath light with darkness ? and what concord hath Christ with Belial ? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols ? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you; and shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”+
2. Another preventive of growth in grace is, embarking too deeply in worldly business.-Attention to the concerns of the present life, in one form or other, is the duty of every man, whatever be his rank in society. The religion of the Bible warrants no man, who is capable of exertion, to spend his time in idleness. On the contrary, it commands lawful industry; and binds every Christian to contribute
+ 2 Cor, yi. 14-18.
* James iv. 4.
his part, either by labour of body or mind, to the general good of our race.-Nor does it forbid the disciples of Christ to embark in business, even on a large scale, when they are qualified to prosecute it in subordination to their eternal interests. But it apprises them that such a post is attended with danger, -a post which few can occupy with safety, and fewer still with spiritual prosperity. It tells them that it requires no common share of
persons, thus engaged, to maintain the life, the zeal, and the activity of growing Christians. And it puts them on their guard against the hazard to which they are exposed, of giving too much of their time, and care, and affections to things which perish with the using ; and which, but too commonly, lead those engaged in them to a culpable neglect of their salvation.
Forgetful of this, and instigated by the example and counsel of worldly men around them, many of God's children plunge too deeply into secular transactions. Anxious to have it in their power to vie with their neighbours and acquaintance in rank and grandeur,-to make handsome provision for their families, -and to enjoy independence during the evening of life; they press into business far beyond what their capital will warrant, and venture on schemes of speculation, hazardous and distracting. So incessantly are their minds loaded with cares, and embarrassed with the management of their complicated plans, that they scarcely can find time and composure for the refreshment of their bodies with necessary food and sleep.