Decay in Souls

But charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him: for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which thou shalt see.
~ Deuteronomy 3:28

Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
~ Revelation 16:15, 1 Kings 11:4, Daniel 5:27

Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. ~ Isaiah 35:3

Evidences and Causes of the Decay of Religion in the Soul Discovered, and the Method of Its Cure Prescribed, by Thomas Boston. Two sermons preached at Morebattle, at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper there. The first upon Sabbath, July 19, 1719.

Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
~ Revelation 3:2

“Whoso looks on the face of the generation this day, in respect of religion, may behold a lamentable decay in spirituals therein. Great things has God done for us again and again, not only of old, but of late: but alas! amidst all our repeated deliverances, we are like to pine away under spiritual plagues. that on such solemn occasions we were stirred up to ” strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die.”

This is a direction given to the church of Sardis, which had a name to live, and yet was dead. A church which had as much as made those about her to reckon her in a good condition; but God knew, and themselves might know, they were far from it; death had got up into their windows, and was making havoc of the spiritual case of all sorts. The directions for a recovery in this verse are two.

(1.) Be watchful. Carelessness had ruined all with them; they are called to bestir themselves to habitual watchfulness.

(2.) “Strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die.” In which you may notice two things.

1. The decaying and declining condition of this church. “The things which remain, that were ready to die.” In which two things are to be observed,

(I.) Religion among them was brought to a very low ebb they; had some remains of it with them, but it was but remains. Their former stock was much spent, the holy fire was become very weak. There is no necessity of restraining this to the really godly among them: it is spoken to the body of that church. Time was when there was another face upon them; some had life-like stirrings by common operations of the Spirit, some by saving ones: but alas I both sorts had quenched the Spirit, and were not now what sometimes they had been.

(2.) That which was among them was like to die out; they were every day growing worse and worse; their light was growing dimmer and dimmer; their lamp like to go out.

2. A seasonable duty pressed on them for their recovering. “Strengthen the things which remain,” &c. Hold hand to what is left, that it do not go too. Under-prop the tottering building, that it fall not down for altogether. Repair the breaches that are made in it. Add new fuel to the dying spark, that it may not be extinguished, but nourished and cherished, till it break out into a flame again.

Doct. When religion with a person or people is brought to dying remains, it is high time for them to bestir themselves, and strengthen these remains, in order to a recovery.

In handling this doctrine, I shall shew,

I. When one’s religion is decayed to dying remains.

II. What are the causes that bring one’s religion to dying remains.

III. Wherein lies the strengthening of things that remain, and are ready to die.

IV. Lastly, Apply,

I. When one’s religion is decayed to dying remains. This is a weighty point; and in speaking to it, I shall shew,

1. Some things from whence one’s religion may seem to be brought to dying remains, while really it is not so.

2. Some things that will evince one’s religion to be brought to dying remains, whether they think it or not.

First, I shall shew some things, from whence one’s religion may seem to be brought to dying remains, while really it is not so.

1. The wearing away of violent affections and commotions of heart in religion, or the settling of flashes of affection. It is true, some never had more of religion; in that case, indeed, when these are gone, all is gone, Matth. xiii. 5, 6. But even the true convert may have more glistering affections than are true ones, when religion is new to him: and when these settle, and he gets more solidity of religion, that is not dying remains. James and John could have fired whole towns for Christ, Luke ix. 54; but when they had more of the Spirit, they were not so fiery. See that prayer of the apostle’s Philip, i. 9, “and this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge, and in all judgment.”

Some think, the love they had to Christ! sometimes they could not have prayed with dry cheeks, &c. But how like ye Christ now; would ye not rather part with all than with him? are ye tender of grieving his Spirit? do ye pray oppressed with a sense of your sin- fullness and unworthiness? These are not dying remains, as you may learn from what the apostle says, Rom. viii. 26, “likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” And 1 John v. 3, “this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous.”

2. One’s not being able to go through with duties with that ease that sometimes they have done before. Hezekiah says, Isa. xxxviii. 15, “I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul.” Self-confidence mixing itself with grace, may give more ease in the performance of duties than is welcome; the which when it is broken, so much of that ease is removed. One may have more temptations than formerly: the wind blowing harder in his face, traveling is not so easy; but the horse may retain his metal, though he go not so cleverly, carrying double, as when single. But he who in the course of his way is striving, wrestling, and pressing forward to perfection, whether with less or more ease than formerly, is not come down to dying remains.

3. The marks of the decay of natural vigour left on religious duties. Christ says for his disciples, Matth. xxvi. 41, “the Spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Though the being of religion does not depend on the case of the body yet there is such a close union betwixt the soul and body, that the body may sometimes be a clog to the soul in religious duties, which is yet going forward in the way of God, not backward. It is not dying remains with old professors, who, in the way of believing and holy tenderness, are pressing towards the mark; that sometimes they could have remembered much of sermons, continued long in prayers, and holy exercises, heard or prayed not with dry cheeks; but now it is not so. Why, natural vigour is gone, moisture is dried up, memory is failed, &c. Was David’s courage gone, when Abishai, the son of Zeruiah, having succoured him, and smote the Philistine, and killed him, his men sware unto him, saying, “thou shalt go no more out with us to battle, that thou quench not the light of Israel?” 2 Sam. xxi. 17. The man may have as great love to God, hatred of sin, desire to remember the word as much as ever: and the impressions abide, though the expressions slip from him, as much as ever. But he cannot make so good music as he did; not because the skill is failed, but the instrument is cracked.

Lastly, more felt stirring of corruption than before. The apostle Paul says, Rom. vii. 21, “I find a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me.” And ver. 24, he cries, ” wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” This did not speak him under a decay, because the struggle was kept up. Corruption may stir more than it did, when it has less strength than before; as when death strikes to the heart of the patient, there are greater fightings than formerly, not because he has more strength, but that then what he has is put forth to the utmost.

Secondly, I shall shew some things that will evince one’s religion to be brought to dying remains, whether they think it or not.

1. When the conscience boggles not but at gross out-breakings. That speaks very little tenderness left with the man, that conscience has little of God’s bonds on it; it has so little feeling, that it is very near to being past feeling, Jude ver. 23. It is not so with thriving Christians; Psalm cxix. 113, the Psalmist says, “I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.” The conscience is the first thing that is awakened, and becomes lively, when the Lord is at work with the soul; and when it becomes untender, it is an evidence little is left.

The untender conscience is an unfaithful watch in the soul, which may quickly involve it in ruin. (1.) It easily lets pieces of one’s religion go, one after another. (2.) It easily admits into one’s practice, things that have not the King’s stamp on them, one after an- other. And thus churches, and particular professors, hasten to ruin, the spiritual building being taken down piecemeal, by growing untenderness, Prov. xxv. uit., ” He that hath no rule over his own spirit, (says Solomon), is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.”

2. When one’s conscience is strait in the circumstantials of religion, but lax and wide in the substantial of it, as in the case of the scribes and Pharisees, Matth. xxiii. 23, 24, where Christ says, “woe unto, you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for ye pay tithe ot mint, and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weighter matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith,” &c. These are come to dying remains; for alas ! the main channel wherein tenderness ought to run is dry, or shamefully shallow. Where lies the main of religion? in holiness of heart and life, that is, in moral duty to God and our neighbour, according to the ten commands. All the ordinances of church communion and society are hut means to that end and therefore they shall be laid by, when this is fully attained; and they avail nothing when they do not advance holiness. “Wherefore we ought to be tender of both, Matth. xxiii. 23, ” These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” And whether one make bold with the one or the other, his religion is like the legs of the lame, not equal; and what he has of it, is but dying remains.

3. When there is any one thing lacking to the perfection of one’s religion in parts; see the text. That religion is in a ruinous condition, that is not entire, Jam. i. 4; like the house that stands wanting the copestone. The parts of religion are so necessarily to be joined together, that if one part be lacking, the rest cannot but moulder away, Mark x. 21. So the whole of what the man has, is but dying remains, in regard of what is wanting. And hence it comes to pass, as one may bleed to death at a neglected wound, while all the rest are taken care of: so one allowed lust will eat out the life of the soul, whatever execution seem to be made on the rest.

4. When folks’ strength against sin and temptation is abated: that is a plain indication of a decay, for “the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day,” Prov. iv. 18. This is a sad case, for one the longer he lives, to grow the weaker; to be the easier ensnared by a subtle devil, and deceitful world; that says the communication betwixt Christ and the soul is much stopped, if there be any at all; that corruptions wax stronger, as the nails grow in decaying folk. Maybe ye think ye can pray as well as ere ye did: but indeed ye are not so patient, so humble, denied to the world, self-denied, ye are easier led aside to sin. Then thou art come to dying remains.

5. When the work of mortification is at a stand; the man’s not watching his heart, and noticing the lusts rising there, and setting himself to mortify them, Rom. viii. 13. A Christian, if he be not going forward, is going backward; if not adding to his stock, he is losing. The garden will quickly be overgrown with weeds, if one be not daily working at them to pluck them up. The leaking ship is drawing water, if one be not busy at the pump, it may quickly be swallowed up. The thriving Christian never wants work. Hence says the apostle, Phil. iii. 13, 14, ” Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

6. When though the duties of religion be kept tip, yet spiritually in duties is gone. Then what is left is but dying remains for says our Lord, John iv. 24, ” God is a Spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in Spirit and in truth:” and says the apostle, Phil. iii. 3, “we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit.” The sense of God’s command does not stir up the man to duty; love to the Lord does not draw him to it; God’s honour is not in his eye. He goes out in his duty in the power of his gifts, but no panting for the blowings of the Spirit. The spirit of the man goes not along with his body; his bodily worship, actions, and gestures, are but naked, yea, false signs; he closes his eyes, but his heart is not fixed on God; bows his knees, but his heart is not humbled; he aims not at the enjoyment of God; but all his duties run into the dead sea of self.

Lastly, When one is become a stranger to the life of faith in Christ Jesus, what is left is but dying remains. The soul, if it have any life in that case, is in a swoon; for “the life which we now live in the flesh, we live by the faith of the Son of God,” Gal. ii. 20. The thriving soul is employing him daily, as a Prophet, a Priest, a King growing into him, coming out of itself more and; more, believing his word, prizing his imputed righteousness as its only hope, and labouring to subject the whole soul unto him in his commands, and the disposals of his providence. Where this is not, and the soul never grows more self-denied, more humble, resigned to the will of the Lord, what is there but dying remains?

II. I shall shew, What are the causes that brings one’s religion to dying remains.

1. Unwatchfulness, Rev. iii. 2. Carelessness about one’s body is oft-times fatal to it; about one’s substance, breeds a consumption in their estate; and unwatchfulness over the heart breeds a spiritual decay. How many this day have little or nothing left them in religion, who were once in a fair way of thriving, had they but watched their hearts? Alas! there are too many enemies waiting to ensnare the soul, from without and within, for any to think they will get their attainments kept, if they do not watch.

2. Spiritual sloth, Eccl. x. 18. This is a bewitching sin; and if once Satan get men asleep on this enchanted ground, be sure they shall be robbed and spoiled there. Thus the spouse will rather let Christ go, than set her foot on the cold and wet ground, Cant. v. 3. Every one has a devil’s agent within him, buzzing in his ear, Master, spare thyself; and when men sleep, the tares are sown.

3. Quenching of the Spirit, 1 Thess. v. 19. When the Spirit goes as he goes, so liveliness goes. Some cast water on this holy fire, by sinning against light, which wastes the conscience, defiles the soul, fills it with darkness and deadness. Some ruin themselves by their not nourishing and cherishing this fire, to give fuel to it, but they bring themselves into darkness and deadness by neglecting it. Some smother it, by taking part with some one lust or other against it, and so resist and rebel against the Spirit, to their own wreck.

Use. I shall drop a word to two sorts of persons.

First, To those with whom nothing remains, but all is died out. Time was ye had convictions and awakenings at a sermon, on a sick-bed, or otherwise: but now of all that ever they got at all the communions, sermons, afflictions, &c. nothing remains, but they are just where they were before that time, if not worse. To stir you up to see to yourselves in time, I would pose your consciences with the following queries:

1. When ye had your awakening, would ye not have given all the world to have had that undone ye had done? Why then turn back to the same courses?

2. Did ye not resolve never to be so unconcerned about your soul, as ye have been? What have ye done with these resolutions? Were ye fools to make them? For were ye fools to break them?

3. Did ye think God’s wrath against sin a mere scarecrow then? why look ye on it so now? Could you sleep sound this night, if God should send you home with his arrows again in your conscience? They have need of strong armour, that have God for their party.

4. Was not death very terrible then? and is the turning back to your old courses the way to make it pleasant now? Is there any more sand in your glass now? It may be farther from your mind, but sure it is nearer your heels than then.

Secondly, To those with whom something remains, though ready to die. This is the prevailing case of the generation, which is in a decaying, dying condition, whereof there are several sad symptoms.

1. The stomach for our spiritual food is gone. Ordinances are not prized, but despised. We look as we had got a surfeit of the gospel. Farms and merchandise go nearer the heart than occasions of communion with God. A sign we may come to fast till we find our stomach.

2. Zion’s children have generally lost their colour, their beauty gone. That heavenliness, spirituality, tenderness, favour of godliness,sometimes about them, is much away. And self-conceit, pride, formality, worldly-mindedness, and untenderness, has made them the colour of the earth.

Lastly, death is working powerfully amongst us by the most hor- rid ingratitude of the generation, for most signal repeated deliverances, under which the generation is nothing bettered; and by the many melancholy divisions whereby we are crumbled into many pieces; all foreboding ruin.

Stir up yourselves to strengthen what remains with you, and is ready to die. Improve this ordinance, communicants, for strengthening the dying remains, and follow on with any little you have, in order to a recovery.

Mot. 1. The longer ye be a beginning, it will be the harder to recover.

2. If ye do not, ye may come to lose more, yea, some may lose all that they have, the remaining spark die out.

Lastly, you may and shall get a recovery, if ye will ply the means, Hos. vi. 3; says the prophet, ” Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain; as the latter and former rain unto the earth.”

Object. I meet with many disappointments, I think I will never recover. Answ. Consider the case of Job, chap, xxiii. and the case of the spouse, Cant. iii. Disappointments sharpen the appetite, teach honourable thoughts of sovereignty, and make the enjoyment sweeter when it comes.

Object. But I grow worse and worse. Answ. The darkest time of the night may be before day-break. See Mark ix. 20—26.

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