Friday, February 19, 2010

Chapter 4 quotes from Personal Declension

Here are some quotes from chapter 3 of Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul (Winslow, Octavius. Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul. 5th ed. London: John Farquhar Shaw, 1853 )

Chapter 4: Declension in Prayer

Were we to select a single characteristic of personal declension more marked than another, we should feel no hesitation in adopting the decay of the spirit of prayer as that feature. (141)

What is prayer? It is the communion of the spiritual life in the soul of man with its Divine Author; it is a breathing back the Divine life into the bosom of God from whence it came; it is holy, spiritual, humble converse with God. (142)

Let it be remembered, then, that true prayer is the aspiration of a renewed soul towards God; it is the breathing of the Divine life, sometimes in the accents of sorrow, sometimes as the expression of want, and always as the acknowledgment of dependence; it is the looking up of a renewed, afflicted, necessitous, and dependent child to its own loving Father, in all the consciousness of utter weakness, and in all the sweetness of filial trust. (142)

But we take higher ground than this; we urge the exercise of prayer, not merely as a solemn duty to be observed, but also as a precious privilege to be enjoyed. Happy is that believer, when duties come to be viewed as privileges. What! is it no privilege to have a door of access ever open to God? Is it no privilege when the burden crushes, to cast it upon One who has promised to sustain? When the corruptions of an unsanctified nature are strong, and temptations thicken, is prayer no privilege then ? And when perplexed to know the path of duty, and longing to walk complete in all the will of God, and, as a child, fearing to offend a loving Father, is it then no privilege to have a throne of grace, an open door of hope? When the world is slowly stealing upon the heart, or when that heart is wounded through the unkindness of friends, or is bleeding under severe bereavement, is it then no privilege to go and tell Jesus? Say, you poor, you needy, you tried, you tempted souls I say, if prayer is not the most precious, balmy and costly privilege this side heaven. (147)

Prayer is the spiritual pulse of the renewed soul; its beat indicates the healthy or unhealthy state of the believer. Just as the physician would decide upon the health of the body from the action of the pulse, so would we decide upon the spiritual health of the soul before God, by the estimation in which prayer is held by the believer. If the soul is in a spiritually healthy, growing state, prayer will be vigorous, lively, spiritual, and constant; if, on the contrary, an incipient process of declension is going forward in the soul - if the heart is wandering, and love waxes cold, and faith is decaying, the spirit and the habit of prayer will immediately betray it. (148)

Why is it, reader, that meditation, and the research of God's word, and holy communion with his saints, and praise, are privileges dry and tasteless to your soul? You can turn from them with loathing. Any engagements but these, - the calls of business, worldly company, the perusal of a novel, will satisfy you! Where are you? How have you declined! It was not once so. O how precious in the first love of your espousals were the moments of holy abstraction! - now eagerly sought, and richly enjoyed, was the communion of saints! - how sweet a privilege was praise, and how sacred a duty was prayer! Is it all gone? Is it all winter with you now? No verdant spot, no green pasture, no still waters? O return again to prayer! Your sad distance from God is the secret of your soul's leanness. The withering of the spirit of prayer has withered your grace, and with it all spiritual enjoyment of the means. (158)

The man whose walk is far from God, whose frame is cold, and worldly, and careless, if he be a true child of the covenant, one of the Lord's family, he may expect crosses and trials to increase upon every step he advances towards the kingdom. (161)

For the revival of the spirit and exercise of prayer in the believer:
  1. The believer should correctly ascertain the true character of his prayers. Are they lively and spiritual? are they the exercises of the heart, or of the understanding merely? Are they the breathings of the indwelling Spirit, or the cold observance of a form without the power? Is it communion and fellowship? Is it the filial approach of a child, rushing with confidence and affection into the bosom of a Father, and sheltering itself there in every hour of need? It should be remembered by every professing man, that there is a great difference between prayer and praying; we mean, between the formal observance of the duty, and the spiritual character of the performance. All prayer is not communion; and here a man may be greatly and awfully deceived; he may repeat his visits to the throne of grace, and go and come without having exhaled a single breath of spiritual prayer; there may be no respiration in the soul; all is formal, cold, and lifeless.
  2. A further step in the revival of true prayer is, to become more thoroughly acquainted with our many and varied necessities. It is the knowledge of his need that gives true eloquence to the petition of the beggar: a sense of destitution, of absolute want, of actual starvation, imparts energy to his plea, and perseverance in its attainment. His language is, " I must have bread, or I die." This is just what we want the child of God to feel. What is he but a pensioner on God's daily bounty? - what resources has he within himself? - none whatever; and what is he without God ? - poor indeed. Now, in proportion as he becomes acquainted with his real case, his utter destitution, he will besiege the throne of grace, and take no denial. He must know his wants, he must know what grace he is deficient in, what easy besetting sin clings to him, what infirmities encompass him, what portion of the Spirit's work is declining in his soul, where he is the weakest and the most exposed to the attacks of the enemy, and what yet he lacks to perfect him in all the will of God; let him examine himself honestly, and know his real condition.
  3. There should be the searching out and the removal of that which hinders prayer. Many things weaken true prayer: unsubdued sin - unrepented sin - unpardoned sin, we mean the secret sense of it upon the conscience - worldly-mindedness - light and trifling conversation, vain disputations, much and frequent communion either with unconverted individuals or cold and formal professors; all these combined, or any single one, will, if suffered to prevail, unfit the mind for converse with God, and cause a decay of the spirit of prayer in the soul. Regard that as injurious which touches the devotional frame of your mind; which abridges the hour of prayer, and removes the fine edge of its holy enjoyment.
  4. But that for which we most earnestly plead, and which will tend more than all beside to the revival of true prayer in the believer, is, a more enlarged communication of the Holy Spirit's gracious influence. Here lies the grand source and secret of all true, spiritual, believing, persevering, and prevailing prayer; it is the lack of this that is the cause of the dulness, and formality, and reluctance, that so frequently mark the exercise. The saints of God honor not sufficiently the Spirit in this important part of his work; they too much lose sight of the truth, that of all true prayer he is the Author and the Sustainer; and the consequence is, and ever will be, self-sufficiency and cold formality in the discharge, and ultimate neglect of the duty altogether. (163-169)

In all true prayer, great stress should be laid on the blood of Jesus. Perhaps no evidence distinguishes a declension in the power and spirituality of prayer more strongly than an overlooking of this. Where the atoning blood is kept out of view; not recognized, not pleaded, not wrestled with, not made the grand plea, there is a deficiency of power in prayer. Words are nothing, fluency of expression nothing, niceties of language and brilliancy of thought nothing, and even apparent fervor nothing, where the blood of Christ, - the new and living way of access to God, the grand plea that moves Omnipotence, that gives admission within the holy of holies, - is slighted, undervalued, and not made the groundwork of every petition. (172)

Do not forget that the season of trial and of bereavement is often the sanctified occasion of a revival of prayer in the soul. The Lord has marked your wanderings: he has had his eye upon the declension of your soul. That voice, always so pleasant to his ear, has ceased to call upon him: and now he would recover you; he would hear that voice again. And how will he effect it? He causes you to "pass under the rod," sends some sore trial, lays on you some weighty cross, brings trouble and sorrow into your soul, and then you cry unto him, and do besiege the mercy-seat. (175)

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