Decline


The recent world crisis has been a time of sifting for the people of God, and while some have emerged with their faith stronger and brighter, it is clear that others have been marked by spiritual decline or even, sad to say, giving up. In connection with this, you will find in the fifteenth chapter of Job four questions. They are as searching as they are simple, and I would earnestly implore every reader to take them to heart as before God. They have searched the writer’s own heart, and this gives him the greater confidence in commending them to the solemn consideration of others.

   The first question is this: “Are the consolations of God small with thee?” (Job 15: 11 AV, my emphasis). By consolations the writer is referring to the comfort that God provides to His children (as in Psalm 94: 19: “in the multitude of my anxious thoughts within me thy comforts have delighted my soul”). So how do these consolations stand with the reader? Are they now diminished? Can you look back to a time in your Christian history when your soul was in greater freshness than now, when you had more love for the Lord and His people, more zeal for Christ and His interests, and a deeper enjoyment of His love? I would urge you to not to quarrel with these questions but to face them honestly. If the consolations of God are small with you, then there is a reason for it, and the three questions that follow may help in the discovery of what that hindrance is.

   The second question is: “Is there any secret thing with thee?” (Job 15: 11 AV, my emphasis). Is there something in your walk and ways, in your business or your household—anything which you know perfectly well is contrary to His holy mind and will? It is a solemn thing to be going on with jealously studied exactitude as to outward conduct (and, perhaps with correct ecclesiastical principles into the bargain) and yet all the time have some hidden evil estranging the heart from God. Reader, is this the case with you? Is there any secret thing with thee? No wonder that heavenly comforts are few when the heavenly Comforter is grieved—for He knows your secret. Outwardly all may seem right with the ship as she sails out of harbour, but there is a villainous stowaway on board who may reduce her to a helpless wreck any day. The captain is aware of it, but he ignores the warning of the only one on board (beside himself) who knows the secret. Now what will it avail under such circumstances that the captain perfectly understands all the laws of navigation? It will avail him nothing. So is there any such stowaway in the vessel of the reader? What does it matter that all is clear and clean upon the public deck if an evil wrecker is hidden below? What good is it that your head is as clear as spring-water as to doctrine, if your heart’s affections are as cold? You have left your first love, and the Lord calls upon you to repent (see Rev. 2: 4).

   The third question is: “Why doth thine heart carry thee away?” (Job 15: 12 AV, my emphasis). Perhaps you may say, I am not conscious of going on with any moral evil, either publicly or in secret, and yet I confess that it is ‘low water’ with my soul. Remember it is often the very things which we are prone to fix the ‘no harm’ label upon that materially rob a believer of the enjoyment of heavenly communion. You may safely take it for granted that whatever diminishes in your soul the savour of Christ and whatever lessens the sense of His love, must be looked upon as a robber, and treated accordingly. It may just be a hobby or pastime, some outcome of the natural propensity of your heart and mind, something which men would rather praise than blame you for—but if it robs your soul of the comfort of His love, IT MUST GO. We are slow to believe how small a thing may be and yet act as a bar to our communion. George Whitfield once drew the attention of an open-air audience to the smallness of his finger and thumb in comparison with the magnitude of the sun in the heavens, and yet, on holding them up to the sky, showed how these little members were able to shut out its blazing rays from his eyes. Truly it is the little foxes which spoil the vines (see Song of Sol. 2: 15)!

   In the OT God instructed His people by figures and pictures as to what was clean and unclean. If you read Leviticus 11, notice how careful He was to furnish a detailed list of the unclean “creeping things” (v29, AV) and to guard His people against them. Has this no voice for us to-day? Have we no need to beware of creeping things (I mean, of course, in a moral sense)? Yes indeed. The world creeps in bit by bit, and old tastes are revived and cultivated, little by little. Remember too that most creepers are also clingers. The smaller the sin (as you judge of its gravity), then often the greater the difficulty in getting rid of it. The pig and the mouse are both classed among the unclean, and are spoken of together in Is. 66: 17. Now if a pig were to walk in at your front door tomorrow, you would not be three minutes expelling it, while if a tiny mouse paid you a visit, you might spend much longer in getting clear.

   Again, how different are the habits and movements of these creatures. The ordinary lizard moves so rapidly that, if he should come into view, he is out of sight again very quickly. How different with the chameleon (see v30). He moves so slowly that you might persuade yourself that he has made no progress at all. Stealthily and unhurriedly he moves—but, if left for a while, it will become very clear that he has made distinct headway. Then there is the mole (see v30). We all know its nature. It burrows beneath the earth, and is rarely to be seen in the light. It is essentially an underground worker, and, therefore, all the more difficult to catch, though the results of his burrowing may be traced on the surface.  So with the hidden sin of the heart. It may be burrowing there for many a day, and everyone but myself be ignorant of its workings. If not judged, depend upon it that God will one day bring the mischief to the surface. How well therefore to heed the exhortation “keep thy heart more than anything that is guarded; for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4: 23).

   The fourth and final question is: “What do thy eyes wink at?” (Job 15: 12 AV, my emphasis). Is there anything in my business or in my family for which I am, in measure, responsible and which, though wrong, I am unrighteously passing over—winking at? God’s complaint against Eli was that his sons made themselves vile and he restrained them not (see 1 Sam. 3: 13) or, as some read, he did not frown upon them. It has been said that many a man gives up the world for the Lord’s sake and goes back to it again for his wife or his family’s sake. Things once frowned upon with godly jealousy may, in the end, be winked at, to the soul’s deep loss and the Lord’s sad dishonour. Oh let us beware of the beginnings of evil and never wink at sin, whether in ourselves or in others! Its deadly power, like the locusts that eat up all the green leaves, will sap your souls of all their vigour and freshness. Give sin one inch and not only will it be sure to take advantage but, in no time at all, will have asserted complete mastery over you.

   Four questions then from this book of wisdom: “Are the consolations of God small with thee?”, “Is there any secret thing with thee?”, “Why doth thine heart carry thee away?” and “What do thy eyes wink at?” (Job 15: 11, 12 AV). May we face these squarely and honestly if we are to stand in an evil day!

Updates