The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Causes of declension in religion and means of revival #3 Making the religion of others rather than the Word of God our standard

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I previously posted section 1 and section 2 of Andrew Fuller’s circular letter identifying reasons for spiritual dullness and coolness, and suggesting some remedies.  This third section considers something of the power – for good or ill – of example, and the dangers of taking the example of others as our standard for godliness, rather than measuring ourselves by God’s golden ruler.

Another cause of declension, we apprehend, is making the religion of others our standard, instead of the Word of God.  The Word of God is the only safe rule we have to go by, either in judging what is real religion, or what exertion and services for God are incumbent upon us.  As it is unsafe to conclude ourselves real Christians because we may have such feelings as we have heard spoken of by some whom we account good men, so it is unjust to conclude that we have religion enough because we may suppose ourselves to be equal to the generality of those that now bear that character.  What if they be good men?  They are not our standard.  And what if their conversation in general be such as gives them a reputation in the religious world?  Christ did not say “Learn of them,” but, “Learn of me.”  Or if in a measure we are allowed to follow them “who through faith and patience inherit the promises,” still it is with this restriction, as far as they are followers of Christ.

Alas, how much is the professing part of mankind governed by evil example!  If the question turns upon religious diligence, as “How often shall I attend at the house of God – once or twice on the Lord’s day?” or “How frequently shall I give my company at church meetings, opportunities for prayer, and such like?” is not the answer commonly governed by what others do in these cases, rather than by what is right in itself?  So, if it turns on liberality, the question is not, “What am I able to spare in this case, consistent with all other obligations?” but, “What does Mr. Such a one give?  I shall do the same as he does.”  Something of this kind may not be wrong, as a degree of proportion among friends is desirable; but if carried to too great lengths, we must beware lest our attention to precedent should so far exclude principle in the affair as to render even what we do unacceptable in the sight of God.  So if the question turns on any particular piece of conduct, whether it be defensible or not, instead of searching the Bible, and praying to be led in the narrow way of truth and righteousness, how common is it to hear such language as this: “Such and such good men do so; surely, therefore, there can be no great harm in it!”  In short, great numbers appear to be quite satisfied if they are about as strict and as holy as other people with whom they are concerned.

Many ill effects appear evidently to arise from this quarter.  Hence it is that, for the want of bringing our religion and religious life to the test of God’s holy Word, we are in general so wretchedly deficient in a sense of our vast and constant defects, have no spirit to press forward, but go on and on, without repentance for them, or so much as a thought of doing otherwise.  Hence also there is so much vanity and spiritual pride among us.  While we content ourselves with barely keeping pace with one another, we may all become wretched idlers, and loose walkers; and yet, as one is about as good as another, each may think highly of himself; whereas, bring him and his companions with him to the glass of God’s holy Word, and if they have any sensibility left, they must see their odious picture, abhor themselves, and feel their former conduct as but too much resembling that of a company of evil conspirators who keep each other in countenance.

Finally, to this it may be ascribed in part that so many are constantly waxing worse and worse, more and more loose and careless in their spirit and conduct.  For those who are contented not to do better than other people, generally allow themselves to do a little worse.  An imitator is scarcely ever known to equal an original in the good, but generally exceeds him in the bad; not only in imitating his feelings, but adding others to their number.  If we would resemble any great and good man, we must do as he does, and that is, keep our eye upon the mark, and follow Christ as our model.  It is by this means that he has attained to be what he is.  Here we shall be in no danger of learning anything amiss; and truly we have failings now of our own, in not conforming to the model, without deriving any more from the imperfections of the model itself.

(work through the whole letter: section 1, section 2, section 3, section 4, section 5)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 25 June 2008 at 09:47

Posted in General

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