Decline in Growth

Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the LORD thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord GOD of hosts.
~ Jeremiah 2:19

The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot. And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.
~ Jeremiah 3:6-8

Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them, a leopard shall watch over their cities: every one that goeth out thence shall be torn in pieces: because their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased.
~ Jeremiah 5:6

Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return.
~ Jeremiah 8:5

For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer: now the LORD will feed them as a lamb in a large place.
~ Hosea 4:16

And my people are bent to backsliding from me: though they called them to the most High, none at all would exalt him.
~ Hosea 11:7

But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.
~ Zechariah 7:11

O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.
~ Hosea 14:1

Decline in Spiritual Growth, by Arthur W. Pink. The following contains an excerpt from Chapter Ten of his work, “Spiritual Growth”.

10. Its Decline I. First, its nature. That which we are here to be concerned with is what some writers term “backsliding”—a lucid and expressive word that is not employed so often as it should be or once was. Like most other theological terms this one has been made the occasion of not a little controversy. Some insist that it ought not to be applied to a Christian since the expression occurs nowhere in the New Testament. But that is childish: it is not the mere word but the thing itself which matters. When Peter followed His Master “afar off,” warmed himself at the enemy’s fire, and denied Him with oaths, surely he was in a backslidden state— yet if the reader prefers to substitute some other adjective we have no objection. Others have argued that it is impossible for a Christian to backslide, saying that the “flesh” in him is never reconciled to God and that the “spirit” never departs from him. But that is mere trifling: it is not a nature but the person who backslides, as it is the person who acts—believes or sins.

It is not because the word backslide is a controversial one that we have preferred “decline,” but because the former is applied in Scripture to the unregenerate as well as the regenerate—to professors as such, and here we are confining our attention to the case of a child of God whose spirituality diminishes, whose progress is retarded. There are, of course, degrees in backsliding, for we read of “the backslider in heart” (Prov. 14:14) as well as those who are such openly in their ways and walk. Yet to the great majority of the Lord’s people a “backslider” probably connotes one who has wandered a long way from God, and whom his brethren are obliged to sorrowfully “stand in doubt of.” As we do not propose to restrict ourselves to such extreme cases, but rather cover a much wider field, we deemed it best to select a different term and one which seems better suited to the subject of spiritual growth.

By spiritual decline we mean the waning of vital godliness, the soul’s communion with its Beloved becoming less intimate and regular. If the Christian’s affections cool, he will delight himself less in the Lord and there will be a languishing of his graces. Hence spiritual decline consists of a weakening of faith, a cooling of love, a lessening of zeal, an abatement of that whole-hearted devotedness to Christ which marks the healthy saint. The perfections of the Redeemer are meditated upon with less frequency, the quest of personal holiness is pursued with less ardor, sin is less feared, loathed and resisted. “Thou hast left thy first love” (Rev. 2:4) describes the case of one who is in a spiritual decline. When that be the case the soul has lost its keen relish for the things of God, there is much less pleasure in the performance of duty, the conscience is no longer tender, and the grace of repentance is sluggish. Consequently there is a diminishing of peace and joy in the soul, disquietude and discontent more and more displacing them.

When the soul loses its relish for the things of God there will be less diligence in the quest of them. The means of grace though not totally neglected, are used with more formality and with less delight and profit. The Scriptures are then read more from a sense of duty than with a real hunger to feed on them. The throne of grace is approached more to satisfy conscience than from a deep longing to have fellowship with its occupant. As the heart is less occupied with Christ the mind will become increasingly engaged with the things of this world. As the conscience becomes less tender a spirit of compromise is yielded to and instead of watchfulness and strictness there will be carelessness and laxity. As love for Christ cools, obedience to Him becomes difficult and there is more backwardness to rood works. As we fail to use the grace already received, corruptions gain the ascendancy. Instead of being strong in the Lord and in the power of His might, we find ourselves weak and unable to withstand the assaults of Satan.

A born-again Christian will never sink into a state of unregeneracy, though his case may become such that neither himself nor spiritual onlookers are warranted in regarding him as a regenerate person. Grace in the Christian’s heart will never become extinct, yet he may greatly decline with respect to the health, strength, and exercise of that grace, and that from various causes. The Christian may suffer a suspension of the Divine influences to him. Not totally so, for there is ever such a working of God as maintains the being of the spiritual principle of grace (or new nature) in the saint, yet he does not at all times enjoy the enlivening operations of the blessed Spirit on that principle, and its activities are then interrupted for a season, and in consequence, he becomes less conversant with spiritual objects, his graces languish, his fruitfulness declines, and his inward comforts abate. The flesh takes full advantage of this and acts with great violence, and in consequence the Christian is made most miserable and wretched in himself.

If it be asked, Why does God withdraw the gracious operations of His Spirit from His people or suspend His comforting influences, which are so necessary for their walking in Him? Answer may be made both from the Divine side of things and the human. God may do this in a sovereign way, without any cause in the manner of their behavior toward Himself. As He gives five talents to one and only two to another according as seems good in His sight, so He varies the measure of grace bestowed on one and another of His people as best pleases Himself. Should any one be inclined to murmur against this, then let him pay attention to His silencer: “Is it not lawful for mc to do what I will with mine own” (Matthew 20:15). God is supreme, independent, free, and distributes His bounties as He chooses, in nature, in providence, and in grace. God takes counsel with none, is influenced by none, but “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11). As such He is to be meekly and cheerfully submitted to.

But it is not only from acting according to His own imperial right that God withdraws from His people the vitalizing and comforting influences of His Spirit. He does so also that He may give them a better knowledge of themselves and teach them more fully their entire dependency upon Himself. By so acting God gives His children to discover for themselves the strength of their corruptions and the weakness of their grace. Though saved from the love, guilt, and dominion of sin, they have not yet been delivered from its power or presence. Though a holy and spiritual nature has been communicated to them, yet that nature is hut a creature—weak and dependent—and can only be sustained by its Author. That new nature has no inherent strength or power of its own: it only acts as it is acted upon by the Holy Spirit. “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength” (Isa. 45:21): every believer is convinced of the former, but usually it is only after many a humiliating experience that he learns his strength is not in himself but in the Lord.

It is rather in a way of chastisement that, in the great majority of instances, God withholds from His people the gracious operations of the Spirit; and that brings us to the human side of things, wherein our responsibility is involved. Ii the saint becomes lax in his use of the appointed means of grace—which are so many channels through which the influences of the Spirit customarily flow— then he will necessarily be the loser and the fault is entirely his own. Or if the Christian trifles with temptations and experiences a sad fall, then the Spirit is grieved and His comforting operations are withheld as a solemn rebuke. Though God still loves his person; He will let him know that He hates his sins, and though He will not deal with him as an incensed Judge, yet He will discipline him as an offended Father; and it may be long before he is again restored to the freedom and familiarity that he formerly enjoyed with Him. (See Isa. 59:2; Jer. 5:25; Hag. 1:9, 10.)

Though God draws not His sword against His erring saints, yet He uses the rod upon them. “If his children forsake my law and walk not in my judgments, if they break my statutes and keep not my commandments, then will I visit transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes; nevertheless my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break nor alter the thing that has gone out of my lips” (Ps. 89:30-34). Then it is our wisdom to “hear the rod” (Micah 6:9), to humble ourselves beneath His mighty hand (1 Peter 5:6) and forsake our folly (Ps. 85:8). If we do not duly repent and amend our ways, still heavier chastisements will be our portion; but “if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). When the Spirit’s influences are withheld from the Christian, it is always the safest course for him to conclude he has displeased the Lord and to cry “Show me wherefore thou contendest with me” (Job 10:2).

Second, its causes. The root cause is failure to mortify indwelling sin, called “the flesh” in Galatians 5:17, which makes constant opposition against “the spirit” or the principle of grace in the soul of believers, A carnal nature is ever present within them, and at no time is it inactive, whether they perceive it or no, Yea, they are often unconscious of many of its stirrings, for it works silently, secretly, subtlety, deceptively, prompting not only to outward acts of disobedience, but producing unbelief, pride and self-righteousness, which are most offensive to the holy One. This enemy in the soul possesses great advantages because its power to rule was unopposed by us all through our unregeneracy, because of its cursed cunning, because of the numerous temptations by which it is excited and the variety of objects upon which it acts. Yet it is our responsibility to keep our hearts with all diligence, to jealously watch over its workings, for the principal part of the “fight” to which the Christian is called consists of continually resisting the uprisings and solicitations of his evil principle: in other words, to mortify them.