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"Spiritual Decline and the Need for Revival"
By Jesse L. Holman

Laughery Baptist Association
Indiana, 1823

      We have again enjoyed the blessings that have heretofore crowned our annual assemblies -- Brotherly love has cheered our hearts, and harmony of sentiment prevailed in our proceedings. The letters from almost all the churches breathe the language of lamentation. They complain that the smiles of t he Lord are withdrawn -- That the seasons of rejoicing are departed. A wintry barrenness is a general complaint, and seems to prevail to an alarming extent. We shall therefore devote our present address to a view of some of the causes of religious declension; and suggest the most obvious means of restoration to the divine favor. For it is in vain that we exclaim, O! that I were as in months past, unless we learn why the months of prosperity are past, or make use of gospel exertions that the candle of the Lord may again shine upon our heads.

     Sin is the cause of all, Zion's calamities; for the Lord chastens churches as well as individuals. Judgment begins at the house of God, because the sins of his people are most grievous in his sight. Various, no doubt, to a certain degree, are the causes which have produced this decline of spiritual life, in the different churches; we may therefore fail in pointing out to each church the particular sins which they or their members have committed; yet our remarks will be more or less applicable to all who are laboring under barrenness of soul.

     Declension in religion generally proceeds from a gradual neglect of gospel privilege. Slight causes prevent us from meeting with the people of God -- the Lord's day grows tedious, and we secretly murmur, O that the Sabbath were past. When assembled for divine worship, instead of uniting with one heart and one soul in supplicating the presence of the Lord, we too often wait until the minister, by his exhortations, shall arouse us into a praying frame. When we grow thus languid, prayer becomes a burden, & is either neglected or performed with a heartless formality. Social prayer in the church is first abandoned; Family devotion then becomes more burdensome; and is also neglected or irregularly maintained; and alas! when we cease to pray with each other, it too often follows that we cease to pray for each other, or even for ourselves. Thus spiritual sloth ennervates [sic] our faculties, until they are incapable of deligh1ful exertion in any religious duty. We give up one privilege after another, unti1 we lose all the enjoyments of devotion, and sink down into the bed of the sluggard. Is not this the lamentable condition of many? Are we not evidently reaping the bitter fruits of a little sleep, a little slumber? Has not our poverty come as one that travelleth, and our want as an armed man?

     When we lose the feelings and enjoyments of Christians, we also gradually lose the christian character. Instead of being cast down and afflicted -- instead of giving ourselves to fasting and prayer, we fall from our high and heavenly calling, to the groveling level of the world -- And if we do not run with them to the same excess of riot, there is such a conformity in our general deportment, as to destroy almost every mark of distinction. Would not the enquiry what do ye more than others, fill many of us with shame and confusion of face? Who, on seeing the prayerless father of a family, neglecting public worship on the Lord's day, and more careful and troubled about joining house to house and field to field, than for the glory of Emmanuel, and the extension of his kingdom -- who would take knowledge of such an one that he had been with Jesus? Who on meeting him in a crowd of unbelievers would be able to point him out as a disciple, because his speech betrayed him? When we sink thus low we become insensible to the blessings of the gospel -- the exceeding great and precious promises are heard without effect, and the awful warnings of the Lord may thunder in vain -- we sleep on and dream of peace, although like Jonah, the storm is raging around us, and the jaws of destruction opening beneath us. The forlornness of our condition is increased by our contentedness in it. We become satisfied with complaining, without one exertion for a change of times and seasons. And are there not many who, to a cold and formal lamentation, have added antinomian indifference, and are supinely slumbering until the Lord shall send prosperity, without ever breathing forth the inspired petition. O Lord revive thy work? Another circumstance increases our wretchedness; we lament our coldness in religion, and backwardness in duty more as a misfortune than as a, crime, and are ready to excuse ourselves from acts of devotion because we have no heart to engage in them. Thus making our guilty departure from the Lord a sufficient apology for continuing absent from him.

     This disease, so fatal to the life of christianity, although prevalent in almost all the churches, is of individual origin; and many no doubt, who are lamenting the low estate of Zion, are the principal causes of her being brought thus low. In searching for this cause, we are apt to look beyond ourselves. We Should begin our examination at home. Like the disciples, when informed of the dreadful deed that one of them would commit, we should put up our fervent petitions, and earnestly enqure [enquire], Lord is it I? We should not only make the solemn enquiry, but hearken attentively to the language of inspiration, that we may know assuredly whether or not we are the subject of that heart-searching, heart-rending declaration thou art the man.

     When the grievous cause is discovered, the remedy is at hand. The word of life abounds with directions, suited to every possible condition in which we can be place. If the accursed thing is hid in our tent, it must be brought our and destroyed. If a sleeping Jonah is the cause, we must speedily awaken him -- If a covetous Achan, he must be cut off. We must remember from whence we are fallen, and repent; reversing all the causes which produced the sad declension. By waiting upon the Lord, we shall renew our strength -- by observing the Lord's day to keep it holy, we shall find it a day of rest. We must join the worshiping assembly and assist in holding up the hands of those who minister in divine things, that the word may have her course and be glorified -- That we may feel and know that it is indeed the power of God unto salvation. We must give ourselves to fasting, to prayer, to watchfulness, and a habitual devotedness to the service of God -- living in the discharge of every duty, and in the enjoyment of every privilege. We must maintain the christian character; not satisfied with knowing we are not of the world, the world must be made to know we are not its own. Our speech should shew we are citizens of Zion; our conversation declare that our hearts & our treasure are in heaven; and our walk manifest that we are traveling to a city that hath foundations, whose maker and builder is God In our churches we should aim to edify one another -- always striving together for the faith of the gospel -- living, walking, and abounding in love -- and so acting in all things that an unbeliever, seeing the discipline and order of the house, would be constrained to report that God was in us of a truth.

     If we mourn over the declension of religion we shall be comforted. If we seek a restoration to the divine favor, we shall find it. If we, as individuals and churches, live in the spirit of the gospel -- looking to, and relying upon the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ for every blessing we shall see the fulfillment of the divine promises of prosperity. -- We shal1 hear the voice of the Lord say unto Zion, arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is arisen upon thee. -- And an entrance will be administered unto us abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. --
To whom be glory forever Amen.

JOHN WATTS, Moderator.

[Taken from the Laughery Association of Baptists Minutes, 1823, p. 2-4. From Franklin (IN) College Library, Special Collections. The title is supplied. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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