Spiritual Decline: Why?

“Ye did run well; who did hinder you?”. These words written by Paul to the believers in Galatia reveal his deep concern at their spiritual condition. The first days of their Christian life had been marked by spiritual vigour and activity, and he could picture them in those early days patiently running the race that was set before them, “looking unto Jesus”, but something had happened. The pace was slackening, their spiritual life was declining, and the brightness had gone from their testimony.

Sadly enough, in varying degrees this is a common experience among the Lord’s people, and it may be helpful to consider some of the reasons for this decline. The causes vary widely and none can regard himself as unlikely to have this experience. Should one have thoughts concerning his own stability, the words of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 10. 12 should be seriously considered, “let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall”.

The Old Testament Scriptures, containing things “written for our admonition”, 1 Cor. 10. 11, give many examples of men of God who at first ran well, men whom God could commend, but whose later experiences reveal a departure from the ways of God and a final spiritual twilight. In 2 Chronicles 17. 3-4 there is a significant comment concerning king Jehoshaphat that he “walked in the first ways of his father David”, and his walk pleased the Lord. From this we learn that even with David, the “man after God’s own heart”, the “first ways” were the brightest and best, and the plain implication is that the latter days were not so bright and prosperous spiritually. We know that they were marred by sad failure and disappointment. It was in his latter days that there occurred the grievous sin with Bathsheba, and the associated murder of Uriah the Hittite. Those latter days were also marked by his pride and presumption in numbering the people. These things happened in the days of his prosperity, when God had established him upon the throne.

It has been pointed out that the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament in 2 Chronicles 17. 3 omits the word “David”, and so leaves the passage to refer to Jehoshaphat’s father Asa. It may be that the translators of the Septuagint did not like the thought that their beloved David should be thus pointed to as one who declined in his latter years, and so they omitted his name, but the divine Author of Holy Scripture faithfully places on record the failures of His people when by so doing He can provide a salutary warning for those who follow.

It is a fact that certain of the good kings of Judah were prosperous spiritually at the commencement of their reigns, but sadly, failure crept in as years advanced. If there were only one record of such failure there may not be much cause for comment, but when it is discovered that quite a number of them turned aside, it is well that an effort should be made to find out why.

What is it that causes these things to happen in the lives of God’s people? In succeeding papers an endeavour will be made to examine the history of some of the godly kings of Judah, as delineated in the Old Testament records, and to trace the decline which marked their lives, and if possible to find the root cause of the decline — what hindered them. It is likely that in so doing it will be discovered that the spoilers of those days are still at large and very busy, and that the things which caused the downfall of those godly men are still operating powerfully against the people of God.

It is not necessary to assume, of course, that advancing years will automatically bring spiritual decline, but it is right to recognize that the danger is there. As another has pointed out, there is an ever-present danger of taking things easy as we grow older. There is danger when persecution becomes less, as it did in David’s case, and as it often does with the passage of time. There is danger when family ties bind us more closely than in former years, and we find we have others to please beside the Lord. There is danger, as even Paul realized, of “becoming exalted above measure” through the abundance of the privileges that God has granted us. There is danger that things which in early Christian life we learnt were evil (so that we walked apart from them) may become less hateful to us until, at length, we can “join affinity” with them. To be continued.

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