Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Personal Declension by Octavius Winslow

I was introduced to Octavius Winslow while reading Tony Reinke's blog Miscellanies. I quickly got my hands on a Winslow book; The Glory of the Redeemer. There are some posts on this blog on that book and if you search the author's name I'm sure you will find them. I have begun a new Winslow work in 2010; 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 ). I'll be sharing some quotes and reflections on this book over the next couple of weeks, but before I do, I thought I'd share a short bio of Octavius Winslow I came across at The Reformed Reader.
Octavius Winslow descended from Edward Winslow, a Pilgrim leader who braved the Atlantic to come to the New World on the Mayflower in 1620. Octavius?s father, Thomas, an army captain stationed in London, died when he was seven years old. Shortly after that, Octavius?s God-fearing mother took her family of ten children to New York. All of the children became Christians, and three sons became evangelical ministers. Octavius later wrote a book about his family?s experiences from his mother?s perspective, titled Life in Jesus.

Winslow was ordained as a pastor in 1833 in New York. He later moved to England where he became one of the most valued nonconformist ministers of the nineteenth century, largely due to the earnestness of his preaching and the excellence of his prolific writings. He held pastorates in Leamington Spa, Bath, and Brighton. He was also a popular speaker for special occasions, such as the opening of C. H. Spurgeon?s Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1861. After a short illness, he died on March 5, 1878, and was buried in Abbey Cemetery, Bath.
Here are quite a few quotes from O. W.; I do not apologize as I really like his writing style and seem to save more passages from the book as favorite quotes than are left in the book itself.

Chapter 1: Incipient Declension

If there is one consideration more humbling than another to a spiritually-minded believer, it is, that, after all God has done for him, - after all the rich displays of his grace, the patience and tenderness of his instructions, the repeated discipline of his covenant, the tokens of love received, and the lessons of experience learned, there should still exist in the heart a principle, the tendency of which is to secret, perpetual, and alarming departure from God. Truly, there is in this solemn fact, that which might well lead to the deepest self-abasement before Him. (1)

If, in the present early stage of our inquiry into this subject, we might be permitted to assign a cause for the growing power which this latent, subtle principle is allowed to exert in the soul, we would refer to the believer's constant forgetfulness of the truth, that there is no essential element in divine grace that can secure it from the deepest declension; that, if left to its self-sustaining energy, such are the hostile influences by which it is surrounded, such the severe assaults to which it is exposed, and such the feeble resistance it is capable of exerting, there is not a moment - splendid though its former victories may have been - in which the incipient and secret progress of declension may not have commenced and be going forward in the soul! (1-2)

We often think of faith and love, and their kindred graces, as though they were essentially omnipotent; forgetting that though they undoubtedly are divine in their origin, spiritual in their nature, and sanctifying in their effects, they yet are sustained by no self-supporting power, but by constant communications of life and nourishment from Jesus; that, the moment of their being left to their inherent strength, is the moment of their certain declension and decay. (2)

We say, then, true grace is indestructible grace; it can never die. But it may decay; and to the consideration of this solemn and important subject, the reader's serious attention is now invited. (3)

By a state of incipient declension, we mean that decay of spiritual life and grace in the believer which marks its earliest and more concealed stage. It is latent and hidden, and therefore the least suspected and the more dangerous. The painful process of spiritual disease may be advanced in the soul so secretly, so silently, and so unobservedly, that the subject of it may have lost much ground, may have parted with many graces and much vigor, and may have been beguiled into an alarming state of spiritual barrenness and decay, before even a suspicion of his real condition has been awakened in his bosom. (9)

This decay of grace may be advancing, too, without any marked decline in the spiritual perception of the judgment, as to the beauty and fitness of spiritual truth. The loss of spiritual enjoyment, not of a spiritual perception of the loveliness and harmony of the truth, shall be the symptom that betrays the true condition of the soul. The judgment shall lose none of its light, but the heart much of its fervor; the truths of revelation, especially the doctrines of grace, shall occupy the same prominent position as to their value and beauty, and yet the influence of these truths may be scarcely felt. The Word of God shall be assented to; but as the instrument of sanctification, of abasement, of nourishment, the believer may be an almost utter stranger to it; yes, he must necessarily be so, while this process of secret declension is going forward in his soul. (11-12)

This incipient state of declension may not involve any lowering of the standard of holiness; and yet there shall be no ascending of the heart, no reaching forth of the mind towards a practical conformity to that standard. (12)

When a professing man can proceed with his accustomed religious duties, strictly, regularly, formally, and yet experience no enjoyment of God in them, no filial nearness, no brokenness and tenderness, and no consciousness of sweet return, he may suspect that his soul is in a state of secret and incipient backsliding from God. Satisfying and feeding his soul - if feeding it may be called - with a lifeless form; what stronger symptom needs he of his real state? A healthy, growing state of religion in the soul demands more for its nourishment and support than this. A believer panting for God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, grace thriving, the heart deeply engaged in spiritual duties, lively, prayerful, humble, and tender, ascending in its frame and desires, - a state marked by these features cannot be tied down to a lifeless, spiritless form of religious duties. (14)

Nothing perhaps more strongly indicates the tone of a believer's spirituality, than the light in which the Scriptures are regarded by him. They may be read, and yet read as any other book, without the deep and solemn conviction that "all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Tim 3:16,17)." They may be read without a spiritual relish, without being turned into prayer, without treasuring up in the heart and reducing to daily practice its holy precepts, its precious promises, its sweet consolations, its faithful warnings, its affectionate admonitions, its tender rebukes. (16)

n a word, is Jesus the substance of your life, the source of your sanctification, the one glorious object on which your eye is ever resting, the mark towards which you are ever pressing? Be not offended, reader, if we remark, that a professing man may talk well of Christ, and may do homage to his name, and build up his cause, and promote his kingdom, and yet rest short of having Christ in his heart, the hope of glory. It is not the talking about religion, or ministers, or churches, nor an outward zeal for their prosperity, that either constitutes or indicates a truly spiritual man. And yet how much of this in our day passes current for the life of God in the soul? (18)

But seek him with all your heart, with all your desire, with the whole bent of your soul. Seek him as your chief, your only good. Seek him as that which can supply the absence of all other good, without whom nothing is good. Seek him as that blessing that can turn every bitter cup into sweetness, every dark cloud into brightness, every cross into a mercy; that can bring bread out of the eater, and honey out of the rock. Oh what a portion has that soul that has Jesus for its portion! (30)

But we desire now to show, that for every poor, self-condemned, heart-broken, returning soul, there is a lingering affection in the heart of the Father, a welcome in the blood of Jesus, and therefore every encouragement to arise and come to God.
  1. The first direction which we would give in the way of recovery is, acquaint yourself thoroughly with the real state of your soul as before God.
  2. The second step is, to discover and bring to light the cause of the soul's declension.
  3. The next step in the work of personal revival, is, to take the cause of the soul's declension immediately to the throne of grace, and lay it before the Lord.
  4. Essentially connected with the discovery and the confession, there must be the entire mortification and abandonment of the cause of the soul's secret declension.
  5. Endeavor to enrich and enlarge your mind with more spiritual apprehensions of the personal glory, love, and fullness of Christ.
  6. But that which forms the great secret of all personal revival is yet to be disclosed; we allude to a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit. This a declining soul needs more than all beside.
  7. One word more: Be not surprised if the Lord should place you in circumstances of deep trial, in order to recover you from your soul-declension: the Lord often adapts the peculiarity of the discipline to that of the case.
  8. Lastly: Set out afresh for God and heaven, as though you had never started in the way before. (33-53)

True and spiritual mortification of sin is not a surface-work: it consists not merely in pruning the dead tendrils that hang here and there upon the branch; it is not the lopping off of outward sins, and an external observance of spiritual duties; it includes essentially far more than this: it is a laying the axe at the root of sin in the believer; it aims at nothing less than the complete subjection of the principle of sin; and until this is effectually done, there can be no true return of the heart to God. (44)

Take, then, your discovered sin to the Spirit: that Spirit, bringing the cross of Jesus, with a killing, crucifying power, into your soul, giving you such a view of a Savior suffering for sin, as it may be you never had before, will in a moment lay your enemy slain at your feet. (46)

All soul-declension arises from the admission of things into the mind contrary to the nature of indwelling grace. The world, - its pleasures, its vanities, its cares, its varied temptations, - these enter the mind, disguised in the shape often of lawful undertakings and duties, and draw off the mind from God, and the affections from Christ. (47)

But when the mind is pre-occupied by Christ, filled with contemplations of his glory and grace and love, no room is left for the entrance of external allurements: the world is shut out, and the creature is hut out, and the fascinations of sin are shut out; and the soul holds a constant and undisturbed fellowship with God, while it is enabled to maintain a more vigorous resistance to every external attack of the enemy. (47)

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