This week’s assignment in Octavius Winslow’s book, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, is chapter 2, “Declension in Love”.
Winslow puts the reader on notice that this declension and the ones described in subsequent chapters are overt in nature, wherein concealment is impossible to those who are spiritually discerning. Sadly, however, these conditions may be concealed to the backslider himself, who is blinded, even voluntarily to a degree, by his infatuation with sin. As Winslow phrased it:
Just as in the physical frame, a slight sinking in the heart’s pulsation, even though the seat of disease is invisible, may be traced in the external symptoms that ensue; so, in the spiritual man, when there is a secret unhealthiness of soul, the effects are so marked in their character as to leave no doubt of its existence. The man may not himself be sensible of his backsliding state; he may wrap himself up in the fearful deception that all is well, close his eyes voluntarily against his real state, disguise from himself the rapidly advancing disease, crying ‘peace, peace,’ and putting far off the evil day; but with a spiritual and advancing believer, one whose eye is keen to detect an unfavourable symptom, and whose touch is skilful to mark a sickly pulse, the case is involved in no mystery. (bold emphasis added)
It is one thing to be sick and to realize it, but quite insidious to have a disease of such a nature that the one who has it doesn’t realize it and consequently sees no need of a cure. Such is the case where love for God has waned, as identified by Winslow in the fourth mark of declension in love:
When there is but little inclination for communion with God, and the throne of grace is sought as a duty rather than a privilege, and, consequently, but little fellowship is experienced, a stronger evidence we need not of a declension of love in the soul. The more any object is to us a source of sweet delight and contemplation, the more strongly do we desire its presence, and the more restless are we in its absence. The friend we love we want constantly at our side; the spirit goes out in longings for communion with him, — his presence sweetens, his absence embitters, every other joy. Precisely true is this of God. He who knows God, who, with faith’s eye, has discovered some of his glory, and by the power of the Spirit has felt something of his love, will not be at a loss to distinguish between God’s sensible presence and absence in the soul. Some professing people walk so much without communion, without fellowship, without daily filial and close intercourse with God; they are so immersed in the cares, and so lost in the fogs and mists of the world; the fine edge of their spiritual affection is so blunted, and their love so frozen by contact with worldly influences and occupations, — and no less so, with cold, formal professors, — that the Sun of righteousness may cease to shine upon their soul, and they not know it! (bold emphasis added)
Due to recent events, I can’t help thinking of parallels between this oblivion to a person’s spiritual condition and that of someone who contracts the Ebola virus and remains unaware for up to twenty-one days of the incubation period. A more biblical illustration of the nature of sin is that of leprosy, the epitome of uncleanness. Initial infections with leprosy may take up to twenty years before becoming symptomatic. Physical leprosy involves a loss of feeling, an insensitivity to pain, which can result in mutilation of the body due to repeated injuries. We find a parallel in spiritual matters as well: The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble. (Prov. 4:19, ESV)
This world’s initial “infection” with this wickedness goes way back to the garden of Eden, when Adam rebelled and became a transgressor (knowing full well his overstepping the line). Now we are to the point in our society today that despite all the talk about human rights, no one knows what it is to be human (i.e., image bearers of God). But He alone remains the life giver and source of all that is good, the one in Him we live and move and have our bearing. Consequently true happiness is found only in communion with Him. The sooner we know this, and Him, the better. Then we can say from the heart with the Psalmist: You have said, ‘Seek my face,’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, LORD, do I seek.’ (Psa. 27:8, ESV)