Charles Naylor, 1918
That we are spiritual at one time, does not guarantee that we shall always remain so. There may come, if we permit it, a time of retrogression. Our zeal may flag, our love grow cold, and our interest may be lost, and we may become indifferent. "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip" (Hebrews 2:1).
Water, when unconfined, always flows downhill, and so do the natural currents of life. Serving the Lord, like any other good thing, requires exertion. If we grow careless and merely drift along, the current will always lead us farther away from God. Progress Godward, is always progress upward.
How many who once were afire for God, are now cold and indifferent! How many who once were bright lights, are now only smoking wicks! Remember that what we once were, does not guarantee that we will stay that way. Spiritual progress results from conformity to the laws of progress, and spiritual retrogression from lack of conformity to these laws.
Physical growth is dependent upon the taking in and assimilation of new materials by an already organized structure. Spiritual growth depends upon our taking in spiritual materials and utilizing them properly in our development. We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. If we keep so filled, there will be no retrogression.
There are a number of things that contribute to drifting away from God. Let us consider some of them.
Neglect of prayer and of the reading of God's Word. When we neglect these, we cannot but grow indifferent and fail to make spiritual progress. When we neglect these things, we soon lose our relish for them; and when that relish is lost, it becomes still more easy to neglect them. In this way we shut up the channel of grace and thereby prevent its flowing into our hearts.
Neglect of attending church meetings. When people grow careless about assembling themselves with God's people, it is an evidence that they are drifting. Fervent love for God, gives us a fervent love for his people; and a fervent love for them, brings a fervent desire to be with them. A loss of interest, either through neglect or by letting another interest come in ahead of God, draws the soul away. We can prosper spiritually, only so long as God has first place in our affections and first place in our interests. Beware of anything that comes between you and God, to draw your interest away from him. It will be ruinous to your soul.
Drawing away from duty. When people are first saved, as a rule they have a great zeal to work for God. They prefer doing that to anything else. Their souls delight in it. It is their food to do his will. So long as they are in this attitude, they will prosper; they will steadily grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord. But when their zeal begins to cool and their love becomes less strong, there is often a drawing back from duty. Before, they needed no urging; they were ready. Now, duty is irksome; they go about it reluctantly. They prefer that someone else work, while they look on. They serve God from a sense of duty, rather than from a sense of love. If we saw these things in their right aspect and their true meaning, we would see them as great danger-signs along the way, warning us of the trouble ahead. Such a change always indicates spiritual retrogression. It shows that the soul, instead of becoming more spiritual, is becoming less so.
Hardening the conscience until it loses its tenderness toward God, and so becoming careless in life. In the beginning of our new-born life, we have a tender conscience toward God. We ought to care for this tender conscience. We ought to follow it carefully, and keep it tender toward God. Conscience must, however, be regulated by common sense and good judgment—or it will become a tyrant and rule our lives in a way to make us miserable. This is quite different from having that careful earnest desire to please God. When we are drifting, we are not so much concerned about pleasing God as we were before—and we become more concerned about pleasing ourselves. Beware of the increase of this self-pleasing disposition. It is always a mark of spiritual degeneration.
Self-indulgence. No matter what direction this may take, it is sure to bring evil results. Partaking of worldly amusements, allowing pride to come into the soul and gratifying it with worldly apparel, luxurious living, and all similar things—are destructive to spirituality.
Going back on our obligations. When we make God a promise to do something he asks of us, he expects us to live up to it; and not only does he expect it, but he will require it. Therefore, if we draw back from that which we have promised him, or if we withhold from him the service that we have promised him—we shall do it at great cost to our souls.
There are thousands of souls who draw back in this way. They make promises to God, and when they make them, they mean to fulfill them; but as time goes on and they do not fulfill them, they grow careless about it, or indifferent, or unwilling, or for some other reason fail to perform what they promised. They draw back from being wholly the Lord's. They want to do something for themselves. They want to choose their own way and make their own plans. God, of course, permits them to do this, but it is at the loss of their spirituality and of his blessing upon their souls. In the end, if they persist, it will mean their eternal ruin.
Oh, beware of drifting! Beware of carelessness and neglect. Beware of drawing back from what you have promised God. Beware of anything and everything that makes you less spiritual. Keep this thought in mind: You have but one opportunity to gain Heaven. If you miss that one opportunity—you have missed all. Press forward; make some gain each day. You will not be able to see that you have made a gain every day—but if you walk humbly before God and do your duty, lovingly and faithfully, you will each day draw a little nearer God. He has said, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you."
Every step we make toward God, he makes a step toward us. It is just like walking toward your reflection in a mirror. Every time you step toward your reflection, it seems to step towards you, so that one step brings you two steps nearer. Just so, each step you take toward God, brings him two steps nearer you.