Second. I shall resolve it positively, and show by what he may certainly conclude that grace is declining; and that in a threefold respect. 1. In reference to temptations to sin. 2. In reference to the duties of God’s worship. 3. The frame of thy heart in worldly employments.
- In reference to temptations to sin, and that is threefold.
(1.) When thou art not so wakeful to discover the encroachings of sin upon thee as formerly. At one time we find David’s heart smote him when he but rent the skirt of Saul’s garment; at another time, when his eye glanced on Bathsheba, he takes no such notice of the snare Satan had him in, and so is led from one sin to another, which plainly showed that grace in him was heavy-eyed, and his heart not in so holy a frame as it had been. If an enemy comes up to the gates, and the sentinel [does] not so much as give an alarm to the city of his approach, it shows he is off his guard, either fallen asleep or worse. If grace were awake, and thy conscience had not contracted some hardness, it would do its office.
(2.) When a temptation to sin is discovered, and thou findest thy heart shut up that thou dost not pray against it, or not with that zeal and holy indignation, as formerly upon such occasions, it is a bad sign, that lust hath got an advantage of thy grace, that thou canst not readily betake thyself to thy arms. Thy affections are bribed, and this makes thee so cold a suitor at the throne of grace for help against thine enemy.
(3.) When the arguments prevailing most with thee to resist temptations to sin, or to mourn for sins committed, are more carnal and less evangelical than formerly. May be thou rememberest when thy love to Christ would have spit fire on the face of Satan tempting thee to such a sin, but now that holy fire is so abated that if there were not some other carnal motives to make the vote full, it would hazard to be carried for it, rather than against it. And so in mourning for a sin, there is possibly now some slavish arguments, like an onion in the eye, which makes thee weep, rather than pure ingenuity arising from love to God whom thou hast offended; this speaks a sad decay, and the more mixture there is of such carnal arguments, either in the resisting of, or mourning for sin, the greater the declination of grace is. David’s natural heat sure was much decayed, when he needed so many clothes to be laid on him, and yet he felt so little heat; the time was he would have sweat with fewer. I am afraid, many their love to Christ will be found, in these declining times, to have lost so much of its youthful vigor, that what would formerly have put them into a holy fury and burning zeal against some sins, such as Sabbath-breaking, pride of apparel, neglect of family duties, &c., hath now much ado to keep any heat at all in them against the same.
- In reference to the duties of God’s worship.
(1.) If thy heart doth not prompt thee with that forwardness and readiness as formerly to hold communion with God in any duty. Possibly thou knowest the time when thy heart echoed back to the motions of God’s spirit bidding thee seek his face: ‘Thy face, Lord, will I seek;’ yea, thou didst long as much till a Sabbath, or a sermon-season came, as the carnal wretch doth till it be gone; but now thy pulse doth not beat so quick a march to the ordinances public or secret. Nature cannot but decay if appetite to food go away. A craving soul is the thriving soul; such a child that will not let his mother rest, but is frequently crying for the breast.
(2.) When thou declinest in thy care to perform duties in spiritual sort, and to preserve the sense of those more inward failings, which in duty none but thyself can check thee of. It is not frequency of duty, but spirituality in duty, [that] causeth thriving, and therefore neglect in this point soon brings grace into a consumptive posture. Possibly, soul, the time was thou wert not satisfied with praying, but thou didst watch thy heart strictly; as a man would every piece in a sum of money he pays, lest he should wrong his friend with any brass or uncurrent coin—thou wouldst have God not only have duty, but duty stamped with that faith which makes it current, have that zeal and sincerity which makes it gospel-weight; but now thou art more careless and formal. O look to it, poor soul, thou wilt, if thou continue thus careless, melt in thy spiritual state apace. Such dealings will spoil thy trade with heaven. God will not take off these slightly duties at thy hands.
(3.) When a Christian gets little spiritual nourishment from communion with God, to what it hath done. The time had been, may be, thou couldst show what came of thy praying, hearing, and fasting, but now the case is altered. There is a double strength [which] communion with God imparts to a soul in a healthful disposition—strength to faith, and strength for our obedient walking. Dost thou hear and pray, and get no more strength to hold by a promise, no more power over, or brokenness of heart under, thy usual corruptions? What! come down the mount, and break the tables of God’s law, as soon as thou art off the place! as deep in thy passion, as uneven in thy course as before! There is a sure decay of that inward heat, which should and would, if in its right temper, suck some nourishment from these.
- The frame of thy heart in worldly employments.
(1.) When thy worldly occasions do not leave thee in so free and spiritual a disposition, to return to the presence of God as formerly. May be thou couldst have come from thy shop and family employments to thy closet, and find they have kept thee in frame, yea, may be delivered thee up in a better frame for those duties; but now it is otherwise, thou canst not so shake them off but they cleave to thy spirit, and give an earthly savour to thy praying and hearing. Thou hast reason to bewail it; when nature decays, men go more stooping; and it is a sign some such decay is in thee, that thou canst not, as thou usest, lift up thy heart from earthly to spiritual duties. They were intended as helps against temptation, and therefore when they prove snares to us there is a distemper on us. If we wax worse after sleep, the body is not right, because the nature of sleep is to refresh; if exercise indisposeth for work, the reason is our bodies. So here.
(2.) When thy diligence in thy particular calling is more selfish. Possibly thou hast wrought in thy shop, and set close at thy study, in obedience to the command chiefly. Thy carnal interests have swayed but little with thee, but now thou tradest more for thyself, and less for God. O have a care of this.
(3.) When thou canst not bear the disappointment of thy carnal ends in thy particular calling, as thou hast done. Thou workest and gettest little of the world, thou preachest and art not much esteemed, and thou knowest not well how to brook these. The time was thou couldst retire thyself into God, and make up all thou didst want elsewhere in him; but now thou art not so well satisfied with thy estate, rank, and condition. Thy heart is fingering for more of these than God allows thee, this shows declining. Children are harder to be pleased, and old men—whose decay of nature makes them more froward, and in a manner children a second time —than others. Labour therefore to recover thy decaying grace, and as this lock grows, so thy strength with it will, to acquiesce in the disposure of God’s providence.