The Causes and Cure of Backsliding

[The following is a rather lengthy quotation from Octavius Winslow's excellent book Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul. This is an old classic, on the causes and cures of backsliding, that I have come to late. I remember first seeing it when I was a teenager, but have never read it through. But for the past few days I've been reading a chapter a day - partly for my own personal benefit and partly in preparation for some future preaching. 

The text below is copied directly from Winslow's book (on my Kindle). But I have added the paragraphing and headings in order to make it more navigable. As you can see in this excerpt, Winslow is leading his readers through the possible causes of "declension" in faith. (This is from chapter 3 of the book, which is in the public domain.)

You might wonder if it is worth your time to read something this old and this long on a blog. But if you are a believer and you know that your spiritual life is currently in decline and you are conscious of less intimacy with Jesus now than you have had in the past, then this is worth your time. It has fed and nourished me. I hope it will do the same for you.]

It only remains for us to show in what way the Holy Spirit revives, strengthens, and increases the declining grace of faith. And this he does, in the first place, by discovering to the believer the cause of its declension, and setting him upon, and strengthening him in, the work of its removal. The Spirit leads the declining believer to the spiritual duty of self-examination.

When any grace of the Spirit is in a sickly and declining state, an effect so painful must originate in a cause that needs to be searched out: the great difficulty in a backsliding soul, is, to bring it to the spiritual and needed duty of self-scrutiny: There is something so humiliating, so foreign to the natural inclination of the heart, and withal, to which the very declension of the soul is so strongly opposed, that it requires no little putting forth of the Spirit's grace, to bring the believer honestly and fully into it. Just as the merchant, conscious of the embarrassed state of his affairs, shrinks from a thorough investigation of his books, so does the conscious backslider turn from the honest examination of his wandering heart. But as the cure of any disease, or the correction of any evil, depends upon the knowledge of its cause, so does the revival of a declining believer closely connect itself with the discovery and removal of that which led to his declension.

Declining believer, what is the cause of your weak faith ? Why is this lovely, precious, and fruitful flower drooping, and ready to die? What has dimmed the eye, and paralyzed the hand, and enfeebled the walk of faith?

Neglect of Prayer

Perhaps it is the neglect of prayer: you have lived, it may be, days, and weeks, and months, without communion with God; there have been no constant and precious visits to your closet; no wrestling with God; no fellowship with your Father. Marvel not, beloved, that your faith languishes, droops, and fades. The greater marvel is, that you have any faith at all; that it is not quite dead, plucked up by the root; and but for the mighty power of God, and the constant intercession of Jesus at his right hand, it would long since have ceased to be.

But what will revive it ? - An immediate return to prayer; revisit your closet; rebuild the broken altar; rekindle the expiring flame; seek your forsaken God. O how can faith be revived, and how can it grow, in the neglect of daily, secret, and wrestling prayer with God? The Eternal Spirit laying this upon your heart, showing you your awful neglect, and breathing into you afresh the spirit of grace and supplication, will impart a new and blessed impulse to faith.

Misinterpreting the Lord's Providential Dealings

Perhaps you have been misinterpreting the Lord's providential dealings with you; you have been indulging in unbelieving, unkind, unfilial views of your trials, bereavements, and disappointments; you have said, " Can I be a child, yet be afflicted thus? can he love me, yet deal with me so?" O that thought! O that surmise! Could you have looked into the heart of your God when he sent that trial, caused that bereavement, blew upon that flower, and blasted that fair design, you would never have murmured more: so much love, so much tenderness, so much faithfulness, so much wisdom would you have seen as to have laid your mouth silent in the dust before him.

Wonder not that, indulging in such misgivings, interpreting the covenant dealings of a God of love in such a light, your faith has received a wound. Nothing perhaps more tends to unhinge the soul from God, engender distrust, hard thoughts, and rebellious feelings, than thus to doubt his loving-kindness and faithfulness in the discipline he is pleased to send. But faith, looking through the dark cloud, rising on the mountain wave, and anchoring itself on the Divine veracity, and the unchangeable love of God, is sure to strengthen and increase by every storm that beats upon it.

The Enchantment of the World

Is it the enchantment of the world that has seized upon your faith? has it stolen upon you, beguiled you, caught you with its glitter, fascinated you with its siren song, overwhelmed you with its crushing cares?—Come out from it, and be separate; resign its hollow friendship, its temporizing policy, its carnal enjoyments, its fleshly wisdom, its sinful conformity. All these becloud the vision, and enfeeble the grasp of faith. The world, and the love of it, and conformity to it, may please and assist the life of sense, but it is opposed to, and will retard, the life of faith. Not more opposed in their natures are the flesh and the Spirit, darkness and light, sin and holiness, than are a vigorous life of faith and a sinful love of the world.

Professor of the Gospel! guard against the world; it is your great bane: watch against conformity to it in your dress, in your mode of living, in the education of your children, in the principles, and motives, and policy, that govern you. We would say to every professing Christian, be a non-conformist here; separate yourselves from the world, - that world that crucified your Lord and Master, and would crucify his faith that is in you; touch not the unclean thing, for, "you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." Would you be " strong in faith, giving glory to God?" - then yield obedience to the voice which, with an unearthly tongue, exclaims to every professing child of God, " be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God!"

Unmortified Sin

Is it unmortified sin that feeds at the root of faith? Bring it to the cross of Christ, - condemn it there, nail it there, and leave it not until you are enabled to exclaim, " Thanks be unto God, who always causes me to triumph through Christ Jesus!"

The Indulgence of Unbelieving Fears and Doubts

Is it the indulgence of unbelieving and dishonoring fears touching your interest in Christ? Yield them, and let the wind scatter them; there is no ground for the doubts and unbelief of a child of God; there may be much in himself to cast him down, but nothing in the truth which he professes to believe; there is nothing in the subject-matter of faith, nothing in Christ, nothing in the work of Christ, nothing in the word of God, calculated to beget a doubt or a fear in the heart of a poor sinner.

On the contrary, everything to inspire confidence, strengthen faith, and encourage hope. Does his sin plead loud for his condemnation? - the voice of Immanuel's blood pleads louder for his pardon; does his own righteousness condemn ? - the righteousness of Christ acquits. Thus there is nothing in Christ to engender an unbelieving doubt in a poor convinced sinner. Himself he may doubt, - he may doubt his ability to save himself, - he may doubt his power to better his condition, to make himself more worthy and acceptable, but never let him doubt that Christ is all that a poor, lost, convinced sinner wants. Let him not doubt that Jesus is the Friend of sinners, the Savior of sinners, and that he was never known to cast out one who in lowliness and brokenness of heart, sought his compassionate grace.

O seek, reader, more simple views of Jesus; clearer views of his great and finished work; take every doubt as it is suggested, every fear as it rises, to him; and remember that whatever of vileness you discover in yourself that has a tendency to lay you low, there is everything in Jesus calculated to lift you from the ash-heap, and place you among the princes. Discovering to the backsliding believer these points, - making known to him which it is that causes the declension of his faith, the Eternal Spirit of God takes the first step in the great and precious work of revival.


Sarah Bass said...

Amen - thanks for sharing this. What a gem! And what a help.

Unknown said...

very helpful thanks Pastor Brian