Causes of declension in religion and means of revival #5 What shall we do?
In this fifth and final section of Andrew Fuller’s challenging letter (see section 1, section 2, section 3 and section 4), the author moves on from the causes of declension that he has identified (contentment with a superficial acquaintance with the gospel;contentment with present attainments without aspiring after eminence in grace and holiness; making the religion of others rather than the Word of God our standard;failure to consider the consequences of our own good and evil conduct) to address some of the means of their removal, and the pursuit of a more wholehearted and entire religion, a more vital and earnest Christianity.
These, brethren, we apprehend, are some of the causes, among many others, which have produced those declensions which you and we lament. But what do we say? Do we indeed lament them? If we do, it will be natural for us to inquire, “What shall we do? What means can be used towards their removal, and a happy revival?” If this be now indeed the object of our inquiry, we cannot do better than attend to the advice of the great Head of the church to a backsliding people: “Remember . . . from whence thou art fallen, . . . and do thy first works.” “Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain that are ready to die. . . . Remember . . . how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent!” (Rev 2.5; 3.2-3). Particularly,
First, let us recollect the best periods of the Christian church, and compare them with the present; and the best parts of our own life, if we know when they were, and compare them with what we are now. A recollection of the disinterestedness, zeal and godliness of the primitive Christians, and their successors in after-ages, millions of whom, in Christ’s cause, loved not their lives unto death, would surely make us loathe ourselves for our detestable lukewarmness! As Protestants, let us think of the fervent zeal and holy piety of our Reformers – think what objects they grasped, what difficulties they encountered, and what ends they obtained! As Protestant Dissenters, let us reflect on the spirit and conduct of our Puritan and non-conforming ancestors. Think how they served God at the expense of all that was dear to them in this world, and laid the foundation of our churches in woods, and dens, and caves of the earth! Say, too, was their love more than need be? Is the importance of things abated since their death? Might not they have pleaded the anger and cruelty of the times in excuse for a non-appearance for God, with much more seeming plausibility than we can excuse our spirit of hateful indifference? O let us remember whence we are fallen, and repent!
As to our own lives, if we are real Christians, probably we can remember times wherein the great concerns of salvation seemed to eclipse all other objects. We covenanted with God. We resigned over all to him. We loved to be his, wholly his, rather than our own. We were willing to do any thing, or become any thing, that should glorify his name. And is it so now? No! But why not? What iniquity have we found in him, that we are gone away backward? “O my people,” saith the Lord, “what have I done unto thee? . . . Wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against me!” Have I been a hard master, or a churlish father, or a faithless friend? Have I not been patient enough with you, or generous enough towards you? Could I have done any thing more for you that I have not done? Was the covenant you made with me a hard bargain? Was it hard on your side for me to be made sin, who knew no sins, that you might be made the righteousness of God in me? Were the rewards of my service such as you could not live upon? Is it better with you now than then? O Christian reader! pause awhile. Lay aside the paper, and retire before God! Reflect, and pour out thy soul before him. Say unto him, “O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of face!” Thus, thus, “remember . . . whence thou art fallen, and repent”!
But do not stop here. Think it not sufficient that we lament and mourn over our departures from God. We must return to him with full purpose of heart. “Strengthen the things that remain which are ready to die.” Cherish a greater love to the truths of God – pay an invariable regard to the discipline of his house – cultivate love to one another – frequently mingle souls by frequently assembling yourselves together – encourage a meek, humble, and savoury spirit, rather than a curious one. These are some of the things among us that are “ready to die!” To this it is added,
“Do thy first works.” Fill up your places in God’s worship with that earnestness and constancy as when you were first seeking after the salvation of your souls. Flee from those things which conscience, in its most tender and best informed state, durst not meddle with, though since perhaps they may have become trifling in your eyes. Walk in your family, in the world, and in the church, with God always before you. Live in love, meekness, and forbearance with one another. Whatever your hands find you to do, “do it with all your might,” seeking to promote, by all means, the present and eternal welfare of all around you.
Finally, brethren, let us not forget to intermingle prayer with all we do. Our need of God’s Holy Spirit to enable us to do any thing, and everything, truly good, should excite us to this. Without his blessing all means are without efficacy, and every effort for revival will be in vain. Constantly and earnestly, therefore, let us approach his throne. Take all occasions especially for closet prayer. Here, if anywhere, we shall get fresh strength, and maintain a life of communion with God. Our Lord Jesus used frequently to retire into a mountain alone for prayer. He, therefore, that is a follower of Christ, must follow him in this important duty.
Dearly beloved brethren, farewell! “Unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”