This week’s assignment in Octavius Winslow’s book, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, is chapter 6, “On Grieving the Spirit”.
I want to raise my hand after reading this chapter and confess: “Guilty as charged!” I shudder to think of the number of times I have grieved the Spirit in the ways Winslow identified: cherishing an imperfect consciousness of the indwelling of the Spirit, unheeding the constraints of the Spirit, an inconsistent walk, and taking the means of grace slightly.
Before enumerating the particular ways in which the Holy Spirit may be grieved, however, Winslow sought to impress upon his reader how awful it is to grieve the Spirit, by employing Scriptural illustrations masterfully, and I especially appreciate that of the temple:
What can grieve the Spirit more than this [the declension of the work of grace in the soul of a child of God]? It is an awful slight cast upon the most glorious and stupendous production of his power: nowhere has he erected a temple so glorious, and nowhere has he put forth energy so mighty, and in nothing has he imprinted so deeply the outline of his own holy character, as in the work of grace which he has commenced, and carries on in the heart of man. Now to witness any decay, declension, or languor in this work; to mark the loss of vigor, healthfulness, or fruitfulness, in any single grace; to see those whose souls he had quickened, whose minds he had illumined, whose affections he had detached from earthly things and centered in God, who did seem to ‘run well’ and promised much fruit, and ‘an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom,’ now slacken their pace, grow weary of the way, fold their arms again in slumber, grow earthly, sensual, and groveling; the temple neglected, its gates unwatched, and other guests admitted; holy motives losing their power, love ceasing to constrain, spiritual things no longer attracting, delighting, and satisfying the soul, — oh! can we imagine the loving, faithful, tender heart of the Spirit more sensibly touched with grief by anything than this? Well might he exclaim, ‘What could I have done more for my vineyard than I have done? Why, then, when I looked for grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes?’ ‘O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.’
A lesson exists here for the “mature” believer who claims the ability to be able to watch a certain show or movie with questionable content, and asserts, “It doesn’t have any effect on me. I know it portrays sin as appealing, but I’m discerning, and I can handle it.” Well, as Winslow points out, it grieves the Holy Spirit when such “other guests” are admitted into so glorious a temple.
If Winslow were writing today, he most certainly would have included such easy targets as television, movies, and internet media in addition to the worldly impediments of his day:
Shall the believer, the professed temple of the Holy Ghost, be found mingling with the world, taking pleasure in its amusements, courting its society, working upon its principles, and adopting its policy? Ought this to be the line of conduct pursued by a professing Christian? Is this the way to illustrate the holy power of the truth, to recommend the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to rebuke the sin, and folly, and rebellion of the world, and to win it over to the obedience of the faith? Assuredly not!
And how can the Divine life in the soul be fed and sustained from such a source? What nourishment does it derive from the light and frothy readings of the day, — from the pages of a sickly romance, a frivolous novel, a tale of fiction? What food can the unhallowed, unsanctified imagination of men, prepare for the strengthening, supporting, and expanding of this Divine principle in the soul? Surely none.
And what a meetness for prayer, for communion with God, for the reading of his sacred word, can a believer find in the giddy dance, in carnal song, in the immoral novel? What preparation of mind do these pursuits afford for approaching to God, for the proper discharge of Christian duties, for sober reflection, for the hour of death, and for the day of judgment? Oh! the awful inconsistencies that mark the profession of some, who can find a near and an easy path from the sanctuary, the communion table, and the closet, to the evening party, the ball-room, the mazy dance, the empty novel, the very heart of a gay and giddy world. Is this true Christianity? is this like Christ? is it after his command, his precept, and his example? Judge ye.
It seems that the degree to which a believer grieves the Spirit is directly proportional to his declension in the grace of love. Winslow didn’t make this observation directly, but the observant reader may make this connection by virtue of the prominence the author gave to the malady of worldliness, which was cited as a primary cause of declension in both chapters 2 and 6. From chapter 2:
The declension of love may be traced to many causes: we can enumerate but a few; let the following be seriously pondered. Worldly encroachment is a fruitful cause; no two affections can be more opposite and antagonistic than love to God and love to the world: it is impossible that they can both exist with equal force in the same breast; the one or the other must be supreme, — they cannot occupy the same throne. If a Divine affection is regent, then the world is excluded; but if an earthly affection, a groveling and increasing love to the world governs – God is shut out: the one must give place to the other. Love to God will expel love to the world; love to the world will deaden the soul’s love to God. . . . Here is a most fertile cause of declension in Divine love; guard against it as you would fortify yourself against your greatest foe. It is a vortex that has engulfed millions of souls; multitudes of professing Christians have been drawn down into its eddy, and have gone down into its gulf. This enemy of your soul will steal upon you by silent and insidious encroachment. It has its disguises many. It will present itself masked in a proper regard for business, in a diligence in lawful callings, a prudent yielding to domestic claims, and will even quote scriptural precept and example, and assume the form of an angel of light; but suspect it, guard against it.
So given the anesthetizing nature of sin, we need to be careful about imbibing much of the world, lest we grieve the Spirit without even knowing it, and sin, as it were, with cart ropes (Isa. 5:18), totally oblivious to all that God is doing all around us today.