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to be ; and what is that method of conduct, by which you may most effectually please and glorify him
The young Convert's Prayer for divine Protection, against the Danger of these Snares.
“ BLESSED God In the midst of ten thousand snares and dangers, which surround me from without and from within, permit me to look up unto thee with my humble intreaty, that thou wouldst deliver me from them that rise up against me”, and that thine eyes may be upon me for goodf / When sloth and indolence are ready to seize me, awaken me from that idle dream, with lively and affectionate views of that invisible and eternal world, to which I am tending ! Remind me of what infinite importance it is, that I diligently improve these transient moments, which thou hast allotted to me as the time of my preparation for it!
“When sinners entice me, may I not consent: ' May holy converse with God give me a disrelish for the converse of those who are strangers to thee, and who would separate my soul from thee! May I honour them that fear the Lords, and walking with such wise and holy men, may I find I am daily advancing in wisdom and holiness|| Quicken me, O Lord, by their means; that by me thou mayest also quicken others' Make me the happy instrument of enkindling and animating the flame of divine love in their breasts; and may it catch from heart to heart, and grow every moment in its progress'
“Guard me, O Lord, from the love of sensual pleasure ! May I seriously remember, that to be carnally minded is death oil May it please thee, therefore, to purify and refine my soul by the influences of thine Holy Spirit, that I may always shun unlawful gratifications, more solicitously than others pursue them; and that those indulgences of animal nature, which thou hast allowed, and which the constitution of things render necessary, may be soberly and moderately used May I still remember the superior dignity of my spiritual and intelligent nature, and may the pleasures of the man and the christian be sought as my noblest happiness! May my soul rise on the wings of holy contemplation, to the regions of invisible glory ; and may I be endeavouring to form myself, under the influences of divine grace, for the entertainments of those angelic spirits, that live in thy presence in a happy incapacity of those gross delights, by which spirits dwelling in flesh are so often insnared, and in which they so often lose the memory of their high original, and of those noble hopes, which alone are proportionable to it!
* Psal. lix. 1. + Jer. xxiv. 6. f Prov. i. 10. § Psal. xv. 4. | Prov. xiii. 20. * Rom. viii. 6. vol. 1. 3 B
"Give me, O Lord, to know the station in which thou hast fixed me, and steadily to pursue the duties of it! But deliver me from those excessive cares of this world, which would so engross my time and my thoughts, that the one thing needful should be forgotten ! May my desires after worldly possessions be moderated, by considering their uncertain and unsatisfying nature; and while others are laying up treasures on earth, may J be rich towards God *! May I never be too busy to attend to those great affairs, which lie between thee and my soul; never be so engrossed with the concerns of time, as to neglect the interests of eternity! May I pass through earth with my heart and hopes set upon heaven, and feel the attractive influence stronger and stronger, as I approach still nearer and nearer to that desirable centre; till the happy moment come, when every earthly object shall disappear from my view, and the shining glories of the heavenly world shall fill my improved and strengthened sight, which shall then be cheered with that which would now overwhelm me! Amen."
The Case of spiritual Decay and Languor in Religion.
Declensions in Religion, and Relapses into Sin, with their sorrowful consequences, are in the general too probable, §. 1, The Case of Declension and Languor in Religion described, negatively; §. 2. and positively: §. 3. as discovering itself, (1.) By a Failure in the Duties of the Closet, §.4. (2.) By a Neglect of Social Worship, §. 5. (3.) By Want of Love to our Fellow-christians, §. 6. (4.) By an undue Attachment to sensual Pleasures, or secular Cares, §. 7. (5.) By Prejudices against some important Principles in Religion; §. 8. A Symptom peculiarly sad and dangerous, §.9, 11. Directions for Recovery, §. II. Immediately to be pursued, §. 12. A Prayer for one under spiritual Decays.
§. 1. JLF I am so happy as to prevail upon you in the exhortations and cautions I have given, yon will probably go on with pleasure and comfort in religion; and your path will generally be like the morning light, which shineth more and more until the perfect dayf. Yet I dare not flatter myself with an
* Luke xii. 21. tPlw."'. ,8«
expectation of such success, as shall carry you above those varieties in temper, conduct, and state, which have been more or less the complaint of the best of men. Much do I fear, that how warmly soever your heart may now be impressed with the representation I have been making, though the great objects of your faith and hope continue unchangeable, your temper towards them will be changed. Much do I fear, that you will feel your mind languish and tire in the good ways of God; nay, that you may be prevailed upon to take some step out of them, and may thus fall a prey to some of those temptations, which you now look upon with a holy scorn. The probable consequence of this will be, that God will hide his face from you ; that he will stretch forth his afflicting hand against you ; and that you still will see your sorrowful moments, how cheerfully soever you may now be rejoicing in the Lord, and joying in the God of your salvation*. I hope therefore it may be of some service, if this too probable event should happen, to consider these cases a little more particularly : and I heartily pray, that God would make what I shall say concerning them, the means of restoring, comforting, and strengthening your soul, if he ever suffers you in any degree to deviate from him. §. 2. We will first consider the case of spiritual declension, and languor in religion. And here I desire, that, before I proceed any farther, you would observe, that I do not comprehend under this head every abatement of that fervour, which a young convert may find when he first becomes experimentally acquainted with divine things. Our natures are so framed, that the novelty of objects strikes them in something of a peculiar manner: not to urge, how much more easily our passions are impressed in the earlier years of life, than when we are more advanced in the journey of it. This, perhaps, is not sufficiently considered. Too great a stress is commonly laid on the flow of affections; and in consequence of this a christian who is ripened in grace, and greatly advanced in his preparation for glory, may sometimes be ready to lament imaginary rather than real decays, and to say, without any just foundation, Oh that it were with me as in months past f : Therefore, you can hardly be too frequently told, that religion consists chiefly, “in the resolution of the will for God, and in a constant care to avoid whatever we are persuaded he would disapprove, to dispatch the work he has assigned us in life, and to promote his glory in the happiness of * 1sai. lxi. 10. + Job xxix. 2.
mankind." To this we are chiefly to attend, looking in all to the simplicity and purity of those motives from which we act, which wc know are chiefly regarded by that God who searches the heart; humbling ourselves before him at the same time under a sense of our many imperfections, and flying to the blood of Christ and the grace of the gospel.
§. 3. Having given this precaution, I will now a little more particularly describe the case, which I call the state of a christian who is declining in religion; so far as it does not fall in with those, which I shall consider in the following chapters. And I must observe that it chiefly consists, "in a forgetfulness of divine objects, and a remissness in those various duties, to which we stand engaged by that solemn surrender, which we have made of ourselves to the service of God." There will be a variety of symptoms, according to the different circumstances and relations in which the christian is placed; but some will be of a more universal kind. It will he peculiarly proper to touch on these; and so much the rather, as these declensions are often unobserved, like the grey hairs which were upon Ephr aim, when he knew it not*.
§. 4. Should you, my good reader, fall into this state, it will probably first discover itself by a failure of the duties of the closvt. Not that I suppose, they will at first, or certainly conclude, that they will at all, be wholly omitted: but they will be run over in a cold and formal manner. Sloth, or some of those other snares which I cautioned you against in the former chapter, will so far prevail upon you, that though perhaps you know and recollect, that the proper season of retirement is comc, you will sometimes indulge yourself upon your bed in the morning, sometimes in conversation or business in the evening, so as not to have convenient time for it. Or perhaps, when you come into your closet at that season, some favourite book you are deshous to read, some correspondence that you chusc to carry on, or some other amusement will present itself, and plead to be dispatched first. This will probably take up more time than you imagined; and then secret prayer will be hurried over, and perhaps reading the scripture quite neglected. You will plead perhaps that it is but for once: but the same allowance will be made a second and a third time; and it will grow more easy and familiar to you each time, than it was the last. And thus God will be mocked, and your own soul will be defrauded of its spiritual meals, if I may be allowed the
* Hos. vii. 9.
expression; the word of God will be slighted, and self-examination quite disused; and secret prayer itself will grow a burden, rather than a delight: a trifling ceremony rather than a devout homage fit for the acceptance of our Father who is in heaven. §. 5. If immediate and resolute measures be not taken for your recovery from these declensions, they will spread farther, and reach the acts of social worship. You will feel the effect in your families, and in public ordinances. And if you do not feel it, the symptoms will be so much the worse. Wandering thoughts will (as it were) eat out the very heart of these duties. It is not, I believe, the privilege of the most eminent christians, to be entirely free from them : but probably in these circumstances, you will find but few intervals of strict attention, or of any thing which wears the appearance of inward devotion. And when these heartless duties are concluded, there will scarce be a reflection made, how little God hath been enjoyed in them. how little he hath been honoured by them. Perhaps the sacrament of the Lord's-supper, being so admirably adapted to fix the attention of the soul, and to excite its warmest exercise of holy affections, may be the last ordinance in which these declensions will be felt. And yet, who can say, that the sacred table is a privileged place Having been unnecessarily straitened in your peparations, you will attend with less fixedness and enlargement of heart than usual. And perhaps a dissatisfaction in the review, when there has been a remarkable alienation or insensibility of mind, may occasion a disposition to forsake your place and your duty there. And when your spiritual enemies have once gained this point upon you, it is probable you will fall by swifter degrees than ever, and your resistance to their attempts will grow weaker and weaker. - §. 6. When your love to God our Father, and to the Lord Jesus Christ fails, your fervour of christian affection to your brethren in Christ will proportionably decline, and your concern for usefulness in life abate; especially, where any thing is to be done for spiritual edification. You will find one excuse or another, for the neglect of religious discourse, perhaps not only among neighbours and christian friends, when very convenient opportunities offer; but even with regard to those, who are members of your own families, and to those, who, if yon are fixed in the superior relations of life, are committed to your care. §. 7. With this remissness, an attachment, either to sensual pleasure, or to wordly business, will increase. For the soul must have something to employ it, and something to delight itself in ; and as it turns to one or the other of these, tempta