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We read of some as backsliding in heart; and this, we may conclude, has generally been the character of those who become backsliders in conduct. Every encroachment made by the returning powers of ungodliness, produces a stronger disposition to avoid those services which relate immediately to God, and which bring the soul near and alone before him. At such times, private prayer is submitted to, rather than enjoyed. Reading is beset with new difficulty, meditation is almost impossible. This want of interest in such employments, soon operates as an excuse for the frequent, or, perhaps, total neglect of them. The man will sometimes persuade himself that the only cause of this negligence is, that he has not found himself capable of attending to such duties in the manner which is necessary to their acceptance. The real cause, however, will be found in the fact, that he has offended the Father of spirits, either by some particular trespass, or by a gradual falling-away from him, and that he has become filled with the distrust, the shame, and the disposition to avoid the searching eye of his Maker, which the remembrance of such conduct must ever produce. A man will not meet the friend he has injured, even in a crowd, without pain; but to meet him alone, is felt to be exceedingly undesirable. In private prayer we meet God alone; and why does the backslider join in the exercises of public worship, while these more solemn approaches to the Almighty are entirely, or, in great part,
neglected? His deceitful heart allows him to suppose that he is not so much an object of exclusive, or near attention, amid the crowd of worshippers, as in the place of retirement. The consciousness of the Divine presence, which private devotion inspires, is not usually experienced, to the same extent, in the sanctuary.
But the offender does not proceed thus far without meeting with various impediments. He has been subject to an almost constant feeling of self-reproach; and has been harassed by a secret conviction, that his various excuses, whatever momentary or partial soothing they may have afforded to his conscience, have been insincere, and such as will not bear review in a dying hour. That he has done evil, in thus forsaking the Lord his God, is a fact which no sophistry can veil; and his chief solace is a vague hope, that the light and joy of former days, may, at some time, and by some means, be restored. But even while indulging this hope, it is manifest that he has been sinking deeper in thraldom, becoming more and more disinclined to spiritual exercises. As he remembers this, his fears augment, reducing his visionary hope to the lowest point. Thus does he taste that bitterness, which must attend the evil of a departure from the living God.
But we have to remark, that though decay in religion betrays itself first in the closet, its effects soon extend to other departments of duty. It gradually shapes the character into Formality,
infusing into it a spirit of Insincerity, and Vainglory, and not unfrequently leads to a Corruption of christian doctrine.
With respect to FORMALITY, it is unquestionable, that the backslider may continue to approach his Maker in bodily exercise, while his mind is far otherwise employed. Or he may continue the attention of the understanding, to a certain degree, while refusing the homage of the heart. He learns to honour God with his lips, while his affections are far from him. Even in the house of the Being who knoweth all things, and seeth all things, he can think more readily of his farm or his merchandize, than of the All-sufficient, who giveth songs in the night. He can observe others, and overlook himself; he can hear for others, and forget his own soul. They come unto thee, said the prophet, as thy people come, and they sit before thee as thy people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And now is the season, when the peace, and the credit, of the ministers of religion are endangered;-when the pulpit is often made to bear the faults of the pew. The deceived heart clings to every kind of deception, and would persuade itself that its dullness, or its want of spirituality, is to be traced to the preacher. There are six long days in which to covet earthliness; and because this curse of the soul is not wholly expelled, as by enchantment, on the seventh, the spiritual physician is denounced
as a functionary of no value. Is this righteous judgment? Will not God avenge the wrongs thus
inflicted on his servants?
Or, it may be, that the only wish of the backslider, in this state of formality, is to be amused, or to partake of gratifications connected with a certain exercise of the intellect, with vivid impressions on the imagination, or with the purely dramatic working of the passions. In such instances, the delinquent may be among the admirers, and not among the traducers of the christian minister. So it was of old: Lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song, of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument; for they hear thy words, but do them not. This class of persons has never ceased in the church; and it is one of the devices of our great enemy, to prevent the backslider, and formalists in general, from perceiving that an admiration of human talent, as employed in aid of religion, is quite a distinct thing from an approval of the religion so recommended:-that the attention of the understanding may be excited, and sustained to a very high degree, by a discourse on behalf of christian doctrine, or even of christian duty, and the heart be still dead in its trespasses. So that, contradictory as the supposition may seem, men may be loud admirers of gospel sermons, and, themselves, in a state of coldness, or rather enmity, with respect to the gospel.
In all services, however, where the heart-felt dedication of ourselves to God is wanting, there is
formality :—and formality, from whatever mixture of causes it may proceed, is a sure stage in the history of a backslider.
We have spoken of INSINCERITY, as an effect of the change now adverted to. If private prayer be relinquished, why should public worship be observed? The answer is, because the hitherto unsubdued conscience, and the judgment of men, both affirm, that this must be to abandon christianity altogether; and something it is deemed important to do, that the good opinion of mankind on this point may be preserved; and, that the displeasure of the power within, which speaks so audibly in behalf of God, may be somewhat allayed. It is written that God will be worshipped in spirit and in truth; but here we see him approached under the low promptings of selfish fear, and from the vain hope of human favour, in the place of that filial gratitude, and affectionate confidence, which are alone suited to his greatness and beneficence. What is done, is done chiefly to be seen of men, a vice especially prominent in the character of those memorable hypocrites-the ancient Pharisees. They placed the forms of religion in the room of its spirit; and this, as it would seem, in the weak anticipation of imposing upon God, as they had imposed upon man. Too much of the evil adverted to is chargeable, even on the most sincere; but in the state of mind now considered, there is a tendency to render it more formidable at every step, until the heart becomes insensible to its