Causes of declension in religion and means of revival #4 Failure to consider the consequences of our own good and evil conduct
I have previously posted section 1, section 2 and section 3 of Andrew Fuller’s powerful letter concerning declension and revival. This is the fourth section, addressing the effects even of an individual contribution (or lack of it) to the cause of the kingdom. Fuller highlights the potent positive effects and devastating negative effects of just one person either embracing their duties and opportunities or entertaining sin or indulging in laziness.
Once more, the want of considering the consequences of our own good and evil conduct is, we apprehend, another great cause of declension in many people. It is common for people on many occasions to think within themselves in some such manner as this: “What signify my faults, or my efforts? They can weigh but little for or against the public good. What will my prayers avail? And what great loss will be sustained by an individual occasionally omitting the duty of prayer, or attendance on a church meeting, or it may be the public worship and ordinances of God? And what consequences will follow if one be a little now and then off one’s watch – nobody is perfect,” etc, etc. This, and a great deal more such horrid atheism, it is to be feared, if a thorough search were made, would be found to lie at the bottom of our common departures from God.
If, when an army goes forth to engage the enemy, every soldier were to reason with himself thus, “Of what great consequences will my services be? It is but little execution that I can do; it will make but very little difference, therefore, if I desert or stand neuter. There are enow to fight without me,” what would be the consequence? Would such reasoning be admitted? Was it admitted in the case of the Reubenites, who cowardly abode by their sheepfolds while their brethren jeoparded their lives upon the high places in the field? Was not Meroz cursed with a bitter curse because its inhabitants came not forth to the help of the Lord in the day of the mighty (Jgs 5.15-16, 23)? If an army would hope to obtain the victory, every man should act as if the whole issue of the battle depended upon his conduct. So, if ever things go well in a religious view, it will be when every one is concerned to act as if he were the only one that remained on God’s side.
We may think the efforts of an individual to be trifling; but, dear brethren, let not this atheistical spirit prevail over us. It is the same spawn with that cast forth in the days of Job, when they asked concerning the Almighty, “What profit shall we have if we pray unto him?” At this rate Abraham might have forborne interceding for Sodom, and Daniel for his brethren of the captivity. James also must be mistaken in saying that the prayer of a single, individual righteous man availeth much. Ah, brethren, this spirit is not from above, but cometh of an evil heart of unbelief departing from the living God! Have done with all that bastard humility, that teaches you such a sort of thinking low of your own prayers and exertions for God as to make you decline them, or at least to be slack and indifferent in them! Great things frequently rise from small beginnings. Some of the greatest good that has ever been done in the world has been set a going by the efforts of an individual. Witness the Christianizing of a great part of the heathen world by the labours of a Paul, and the glorious Reformation from popery began by the struggles of a Luther.
It is impossible to tell what good may result from one earnest wrestling with God, from one hearty exertion in his cause or from one instance of a meek and lowly spirit, overcoming evil with good. Though there is nothing in our doings from which we could look for such great things, yet God is pleased frequently to crown our poor services with infinite reward. Such conduct may be, and often has been, the means of the conversion and eternal salvation of souls; and who that has any Christianity in him would not reckon this reward enough? A realizing sense of these things would stir us all up: ministers to preach the gospel to every creature, private Christians, situated in this or that dark town or village, to use all means to have it preached, and both to recommend it to all around by a meek and unblemished conversation.
Again, we may think the faults of an individual to be trifling, but they are not so. For the crime of Achan the army of Israel suffered a defeat, and the whole camp could not go forward. Let us tremble at the thought of being a dead weight to the society of which we are members! Besides, the awful tendency of such conduct is seen in its contagious influence. If people continue to be governed by example, as they certainly will in a great degree, then there is no knowing what the consequences will be, nor where they will end. A single defeat or slip, of which we may think but little at the time, may be copied by our children, servants, neighbours, or friends, over and over again; yea, it may be transmitted to posterity, and pleaded as a precedent for evil when we are no more! Thus it may kindle a fire which, if we ourselves are saved from it, may nevertheless burn to the lowest hell, and aggravate the everlasting misery of many around us, who are flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone!