Returning to Our First Love
by Archibald Alexander
Part 2 of 3
"Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candle-stick out of his place, except thou repent" (Rev 2:4-5).
[Ed. Note: In the first part of this sermon, we considered what the Lord meant by ‘first love’, which according to Mr Alexander,is the fresh experience of love towards the Lord that a young believer enjoys when he is first converted. The mature believer may not experience those feelings again, but he must return to serve the Lord with the same zeal that his first love provoked. We continue in this second part to see the causes and symptoms of leaving one’s first love. —JJ Lim]
Let us, then, consider the causes and symptoms of backsliding; and the imperative duty of all who may unhappily have fallen into this state.
Declensions in vital piety are owing to a variety of causes, internal and external. Some of these operate in one case, and different ones, in others; the whole, however, may be attributed to the temptations of Satan, the allurements of the world, and the inbred corruptions of the heart. Declensions in religion are very commonly produced by too much intercourse with a careless, money-loving, pleasure seeking world. Vital religion is a delicate plant, and being surrounded by many unfavourable circumstances, is liable to receive injury from contact with a polluted world. He who is clothed in garments white and clean, will find it difficult to avoid contracting spots which deform and defile his robes, when he is obliged to live in a filthy house. Piety is not the natural state of the heart, but is brought in by a foreign influence, and finds many things inimical to its preservation and growth, in the soul in which it has taken up its abode. For a while, at first, the young convert thinks but little about the business and cares of the world. Perhaps he is culpably inattentive to those duties which are required in making provision for the body. But soon he finds that he must serve God in a lawful calling—he must make honest provision for his own wants and those of his family. It is hard to pursue the world just as far as duty calls, and then to stop. When the efforts to acquire property are successful, a pleasure is naturally experienced in the acquisition of good things. And, after a while, an undue love of the world is apt to be generated insensibly. The evil creeps in insidiously and nothing unjust is thought of; but the undue love of the world, whether of its riches, its honours, or its pleasures, will soon injuriously influence the love of the soul to its Saviour. The thoughts are too much drawn off from the contemplation of divine things, and the relish for spiritual duties and enjoyments is sensibly diminished. The duties of the closet are no longer anticipated with delight; and the hours consecrated to private devotion, which were wont to be the pleasantest in the whole day, do not now afford the same comfort as formerly.
The want of enjoyment in religious duties, and the wandering of the thoughts in the midst of them, and the want of lively feeling naturally tend to produce a backwardness to engage in them; so that were not the person forced, as it were, by conscience to enter his closet, he would often omit the duty altogether. But when secret prayer is attended to, the person on whom the world has had an undue influence, hurries over the service; and often the omission would be better than the performance, where the service is merely formal, and the knee is bowed and words uttered, without one devotional emotion.
Worldly company, and too much occupation in secular affairs, are almost sure to deaden our pious affections, and to disqualify us for spiritual exercises. At first, the soul which has in it the "root of the matter," is alarmed at the defect of spiritual enjoyment, and makes, it may be, some inefficient efforts to recover the ground which has been lost; but these not proving successful, it gives itself up to a kind of indifference. It avoids serious reflection on its former state of lively feeling; or perhaps is tempted to think that there was more enthusiasm than real religion in those joyful frames, which were once so highly valued. And this temptation derives strength from the recollection of our ignorance, and the many false impressions to which we were then subject. Just so far as this temptation has influence, the backslider loses all present desire of having his former exercises of religion renewed. This is a fearful and dangerous delusion. In this state of delusion, the person tries to persuade himself that he has lost nothing; that sober thought and rational feeling have taken the place of enthusiastic fervours. But where there is any spiritual life, there will be seasons of uneasiness, and an irrepressible feeling that all is not right. These, however, are but waking moments in the sleep of carnal security, into which the soul has fallen. For the most part, the conscience is lulled into a false security; and is so little awake, to give warning of danger, that many things now appear to be lawful and innocent, which would have been avoided as highly criminal in the time of its first love. Indeed, while in this state of slumbering, you can perceive very little difference between the declining professor, and the mere moralist who makes no pretensions to religion. And the people of the world are surprised and gratified, to find that those whom they once shunned, on account of their seriousness, are so much like themselves, and can join with them in gay conversation, and participate in their amusement without scruple.
But let a lively Christian attempt to engage such persons in spiritual and experimental conversation on religion, and see what repugnance they will manifest to lay open the state of their hearts. Soon they will contrive to change the subject; and while it continues, they assent with painful feelings, to what may be said. "Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh." There is no surer sign of declension from our first love, than an aversion to conversation respecting Christ, and his love, and our great obligations to love, honour and praise him, to the utmost of our power. Many leave their first love to Christ, who never fall into open transgression: but some are not so much favoured. They are "overtaken in a fault," under some sudden temptation, as Peter. Others, gradually sink into a state of carnal security, until like David, they become entangled by some insidious lust. When off their guard, the enemy comes in, and presenting the bait of sensual pleasure, they are overcome, and remain for a season, under the dominion of sin. Often it becomes necessary to exclude such from the communion of the church, for conduct which is dishonourable to their sacred profession. And the judicious exercise of discipline, is sometimes made the effectual means of recovering true Christians from a state of shameful backsliding. Discipline is not intended for the destruction of those on whom it is exercised; but that they may be saved, by destruction of their pride and sinful propensities.
A more common means of restoring backsliders, is the rod of affliction. The reason why God scourgeth every son that he receiveth is, because all have faults and imperfections, which a kind Father aims to correct, by the use of the rod. By affliction, the vanity of the world is seen. The infatuation produced by the love of the world is broken. In the dark day of adversity, when the idols of the backsliding Christian have been snatched away; when sickness has invaded his dwelling, and, either in his own person, or those as dear to him as his own soul, he is excruciated with strong pain, and no earthly resource remains on which he can rely for consolation, he is filled with sorrow for having departed from the fountain of living water, and is driven to seek refuge and comfort in the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.
… to be continued in the next issue