Revival Of Divine Life In The Soul Of The Believer
By Octavius Winslow (1808 – 1878)
You are not as you once were. Your soul has lost ground; the Divine life has declined; the fruit of the Spirit has withered; the heart has lost its softness, the conscience its tenderness, the mind its lowliness, the throne of grace its sweetness, the cross of Jesus its attraction. Is it winter with thy soul? Ah! yes; thy soul is made to feel that it is an evil and a bitter thing to depart from the living God. But yet there is hope.
We state it distinctly and emphatically, that whatever be the departure of a backsliding child of God, it is recoverable: not a step has he lost but may be retraced; not a grace has decayed but may be restored; not a joy has fled but may be won back. 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 a restorative power in the operation of the Spirit, and therefore every encouragement to arise and come to God.
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. Be honest with yourself; let there be a thorough, faithful examination of your spiritual condition; let all disguise be removed, the eye withdrawn from the opinion of men, and the soul shut in with God in a close scrutiny of its worst state. Your minister, your church, your friend, may know nothing of the secret state of your soul. They may not even suspect any hidden decline of grace, any incipient backsliding of heart from God. To their partial eye, the surface may be fair to look upon; to them your spiritual state may present the aspect of prosperity and fruitfulness; but the solemn question is between God and your own soul. You have to do with a God that judgeth not as man judgeth – by the outward appearance only – but who judgeth the heart. "I, the Lord, search the heart" (Jer. 17:10). The "backslider in heart" may deceive himself, he may deceive others, but God he cannot deceive. Seek then to know the real condition of your soul. Search and see what graces of the Spirit have declined, what fruits of the Spirit have decayed.
Identify the Cause
The second step is, to discover and bring to light the cause of the soul’s declension. "Is there not a cause?" Search and see what has fallen as a blight upon thy soul, what is feeding at the root of thy Christianity. "Ye did run well; who did hinder you…?" (Gal. 5:7). What stumbling block has fallen in your way? What has impeded your onward course? What has enfeebled your faith, chilled your love, drawn your heart from Jesus, and lured you back to the weak and beggarly elements of a poor world? Is it the world, covetousness, ambition, presumptuous sin? Search it out, and bring it to light.
Full Disclosure Before God
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. There must be no parleying with it, no compromise, no concealment: there must be a full and unreserved disclosure before God, without aught of palliation or disguise. Let your sin be confessed in all its guilt, aggravation, and consequences. This is just what God loves – an open, ingenuous confession of sin. Searching and knowing, though He does, all hearts, He yet delights in the honest and minute acknowledgment of sin from His backsliding child. "I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin" (Psa. 32:5). "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). How full, then, the blessing, how rich the consolation connected with an honest heart-broken confession of sin! The soul, thus emptied, is prepared to receive anew the seal of a Father’s forgiving love.
The true posture of a returning soul is beautifully presented to view in the prophecy of Hosea 14:1-2: "O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto Him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves [sacrifices] of our lips." Here are conviction, godly sorrow, humiliation, and confession, the essential elements of a true return to God. Conviction of the true state of the declining soul; godly sorrow resulting from the discovery; humiliation, deep and sincere, on account of it; and a full and unreserved confession of it before God.
Entirely Forsake the Cause
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. Apart from this, there can be no true revival of the work of Divine grace in the heart. The true spiritual mortification of indwelling sin, and the entire forsaking of the known cause, whatever it is found to be, of the heart’s declension, constitute the true elements of a believer’s restoration to the joys of God’s salvation. 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.
What is the cause of thy soul’s secret declension? What is it that at this moment feeds upon the precious plant of grace, destroying its vigor, its beauty, and its fruitfulness? Is it the love of self? Mortify it. The love of the world? Mortify it. Some sinful habit secretly indulged? Mortify it. It must be mortified, root as well as branch, if you would experience a thorough return to God. Dear though it be, as a right hand, or as a right eye, if yet it comes between thy soul and God, if it crucifies Christ in thee, if it weakens faith, enfeebles grace, destroys the spirituality of the soul, rendering it barren and unfruitful, rest not short of its utter mortification.
Rely on the Power of the Spirit
Nor must this great work be undertaken in your own strength. It is pre-eminently the result of God the Holy Ghost working in, and blessing the self-efforts of, the believer: "If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Rom. 8:13). Here is a recognition of the believer’s own exertions, in connection with the power of the Holy Ghost: "If ye [believers, ye saints of God] through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body...." It is the work of the believer himself, but the power is of the Spirit of God. 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. Art thou longing for a gracious revival of God’s work within thee? Art thou mourning in secret over thy heart-declension? Hast thou searched and discovered the hidden cause of thy decay? And is thy real desire for its mortification? Then look up, and hear the consolatory words of thy Lord: "I am the Lord that healeth thee" (Ex. 15:26). The Lord is thy Healer; His love can restore thee; His blood can heal thee; His grace can subdue thy sin. "Take with you words, and turn to the Lord; say unto Him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously." And the Lord will answer, "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for Mine anger is turned away from him" (Hos. 14:2, 4).
Set Your Mind on Christ
Endeavor to enrich and enlarge your mind with more spiritual apprehensions of the personal glory, love, and fullness of Christ. 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 affection from Christ. These, too, weaken and deaden faith and love, and every grace of the indwelling Spirit; they are the "foxes that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes" (Song 2:15). The world is a most hurtful snare to the child of God. It is impossible that he can maintain a close and holy walk with God, live as a pilgrim and a sojourner, wage a constant and successful warfare against his many spiritual foes, and at the same time open his heart to admit the greatest foe to grace – the love of the world. 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 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.
And O, how blessed is the soul’s communion, thus shut in with Jesus! "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me" (Rev. 3:20). And O, sweet response of his own spirit in the heart, when the believing soul exclaims, "When Thou saidst, Seek ye My face; my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek"! (Psa. 27:8). "Enter, Thou precious Jesus; I want none but Thee; I desire no company, and would hear no voice but Thine; I will have fellowship with none but Thee. Let me sup with Thee: yea, give me Thine own flesh to eat, and Thine own blood to drink."
Ah! dear Christian reader, it is because we have so little to do with Jesus, we admit Him so seldom and so reluctantly to our hearts, we have so few dealings with Him, travel so seldom to His blood and righteousness and live so little upon His fullness, that we are compelled so often to exclaim, "My leanness, my leanness!" But, if we be "risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God" (Col. 3:1); let us seek to know Christ more, to have more spiritual and enlarged comprehensions of His glory, to drink deeper into His love, to imbibe more of His Spirit, and to conform more closely to His example.
A Fresh Baptism of the Spirit
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 Ghost. Nothing short of this will quicken your dying graces, and melt your frozen love; nothing save this will arrest your secret declension, and restore your backsliding heart. You must be baptized afresh with the Spirit; that Spirit whom you have so often and so deeply wounded, grieved, slighted and quenched, must enter you anew, and seal, and sanctify you. O arise, and pray, and agonize for the outpouring of the Spirit upon your soul; give up your lifeless religion, your form without the power, your prayer without communion, your confessions without brokenness, your zeal without love. "Come, let us return unto the Lord: for He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up. After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: His going forth is prepared as the morning; and He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth" (Hos. 6:1-3). Seek, then, above and beyond all other blessings, the renewed baptism of the Holy Ghost. "Be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18); seek Him earnestly, seek Him under the deep conviction of your absolute need of Him, seek Him perseveringly, seek Him believingly. God has promised, "I will pour out My Spirit upon you"; and, asking it in the name of Jesus, you shall receive.
Set Out Afresh For God
Lastly: Set out afresh for God and heaven, as though you had never started in the way before. Commence at the beginning; go as a sinner to Jesus; seek the quickening, healing, sanctifying influence of the Spirit; and let this be your prayer, presented, and urged until answered, at the footstool of mercy: "O Lord, revive Thy work! Quicken me, O Lord! Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation!"
In answer to thy petition, "He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth" (Psa. 72:6) and thy song shall be that of the church, "My Beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; the fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away" (Song 2:10-13).
– Adapted from Personal Declension And Revival Of Religion In The Soul by Octavius Winslow. He was one of the foremost evangelical preachers of the 19th century in England and America.