The Ephesian church's loss of love for Christ reflects a very real danger all Christians face. We all experience ups and downs, growth and atrophy, in our love of God. Octavius Winslow's classic, "Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the the Soul" has been helpful to me over the years, and is being used by God once again to strengthen and steady me. Below is his advice to those whose love for God has grown cold. He argues that we can seek the revival of love by: 1. Evaluating the state of our love for God, 2. Uncovering and killing the causes for our declining love, 3. Resting in God's love for us, 4. Remaining focused on the gospel, 5. Relying on the Holy Spirit for our needed revival, and 6. Knowing, that though our love for God has weakened, God's love for us remains strong.
Reviving Your Love for God
1. Let the believer seek to know the exact state of his love to God. A knowledge of himself, is the first step in the return of every soul to God. In conversion, it was self-knowledge - a knowledge of ourselves as utterly lost - that led us to Jesus; thus did the Eternal Spirit teach, and thus he led us to the great and finished work of the Son of God. Before, then, you fall upon any means of revival, ascertain the exact state of your love, and what has caused its declension; shrink not from the examination, - hide not from the discovery. And should the humiliating truth force itself upon you, - "I am not as I once was; my soul has lost ground, - my spirituality of mind has decayed; - I have lost the fervor of my first love - have slackened in the heavenly race; Jesus is not as he once was, the joy of my day, the song of my night; - and my walk with God is no longer so tender, loving, and filial as it was," - then honestly and humbly confess it before God. To be humbled as we should be, we must know ourselves; there must be no disguising of our true condition from ourselves, nor from God: the wound must be probed, the disease must be known, and its most aggravated symptoms brought to view...
2. Trace out and crucify the cause of your declension in love. Where love declines, there must be a cause; and when ascertained, it must be immediately removed. Love to God is a tender flower; it is a sensitive plant, soon and easily crushed; perpetual vigilance is needed to preserve it in a healthy, growing state. The world's heat will wither it, the coldness of formal profession will often nip it: a thousand influences, all foreign to its nature and hostile to its growth, are leagued against it; the soil in which it is placed is not genial to it. "In the flesh there dwells no good thing;" whatever of holiness is in the believer, whatever breathing after Divine conformity, whatever soaring of the affections towards God, is from God himself, and is there as the result of sovereign grace. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." What sleepless vigilance, then, and what perpetual culture are needed, to preserve the bloom and the fragrance, and to nourish the growth of this celestial plant! Search out and remove the cause of the declension and decay of this precious grace of the Spirit; rest not until it is discovered and brought to light. Should it prove to be the world, come out from it. and be you separate, and touch not the unclean thing; or the power of indwelling sin, seek its immediate crucifixion by the cross of Jesus. Does the creature steal your heart from Christ, and deaden your love to God? - resign it at God's bidding; he asks the surrender of your heart, and has promised to be better to you than all creature love. All the tenderness, the fond affection, the acute sympathy, the true fidelity, that you ever did find or enjoy in the creature, dwells in God, your covenant God and Father, in an infinite degree. He makes the creature all it is to you: that fond smile which your fellow-believer beamed upon you, was but a ray from his countenance; that expression of love was but a drop from his heart; that tenderness and sympathy was a part of his nature. Then, possessing God in Christ, you can desire no more, - you can have no more: if he asks the surrender of the creature, cheerfully resign it; and let God be all in all to you. This suggests a second direction:
3. Draw largely from the fount of love in God. All love to God in the soul is the result of his love to us; it is begotten in the heart by his Spirit, - "We love him, because he first loved us:" he took the first step, and made the first advance, - "He first loved us." O heart-melting truth! The love of God to us when yet we were sinners, who can unfold it? what mortal tongue can describe it? Before we had any being, and when er were enemies, he sent his Son to die for us; and when we were far off by wicked works, he sent his Spirit to bring us to him in the cloudy and dark day. All his dealings with us since then - his patience, restoring mercies, tender, loving, faithful care, yes, the very strokes of his rod, have but unfolded the depths of his love towards his people: this is the love we desire you to be filled with. "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God." Draw largely from this river; why should you deny yourselves? There is enough love in God to overflow the hearts of all his saints through all eternity; then why not be filled? "The LORD direct your hearts into the love of God;" stand not upon the brink of the fountain, linger not upon the margin of this river, - enter into it - plunge into it; it is for you, - poor, worthless, unworthy, vile as you feel yourself to be, - this river of love is yet for you! Seek to be filled with it, that you may know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, and that your heart in return may ascend in a flame of love to God.
4. Deal much and closely with a crucified Savior. Here is the grand secret of a constant ascending of the affections to God. If you do find it difficult to comprehend the love of God towards you, read it in the cross of his dear Son. "In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 Jn 4:9,10)." Dwell upon this amazing fact; drink into this precious truth; muse upon it, ponder it, search into it, pray over it, until your heart is melted down, and broken, and overwhelmed with God's wondrous love to you, in the gift of Jesus. O how will this rekindle the flame that is ready to die in your bosom! how it will draw you up in a holy and unreserved surrender of Body, soul, and spirit! Do not forget, then, to deal much with Jesus. Whenever you detect a waning of love, a reluctance to take up the daily cross, a shrinking from the precept, go immediately to Calvary; go simply and directly to Jesus; get your heart warmed with ardent love by contemplating him upon the cross, and soon will the frosts that gather round it melt away, the congealed current shall begin to flow, and the "chariots of Amminadab" shall bear your soul away to communion and fellowship with God.
5. Do not fail to honor the Holy Spirit in this great work of revival. The work is all his; beware of taking it out of his hands. The means we have suggested for the revival of this waning grace of love, can only be rendered effectual as the Spirit works in you, and works with you. Pray much for his anointings; go to him as the Glorifier of Christ, as the Comforter, the Sealer, the Witness, the Earnest of his people: it is he who will apply the atoning blood, - it is he who will revive your drooping graces, - it is he who will fan to a flame your waning love, by unfolding the cross, and directing your heart into the love of God. Take not your eye off the love of the Spirit; his love is equal with the Father's and the Son's love. Honor him in his love, let it encourage you to draw largely from his influences, and to be "filled with the Spirit."
6. Lastly: remember that though your love has waxed cold, the love of your God and Father towards you has undergone no diminishing: not the shadow of a change has it known. Although he has hated your declension, has rebuked your wandering, yet his love he has not withdrawn from you. What an encouragement to return to him again! Not one moment has God turned his back upon you, though you have turned your back upon him times without number: his face has always been towards you; and it would have shone upon you with all its melting power, but for the clouds which your own waywardness and sinfulness have caused to obscure and hide from you its blessed light. Retrace your steps and return again to God. Though you have been a poor wanderer and has left your first love, - though your affections have strayed from the Lord, and your heart has gone after other lovers, still God is gracious and ready to pardon you; he will welcome you back again for the sake of Jesus, his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased, for this is his own blessed declaration, - "If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then I will visit their transgressions with a rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless, mo loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail (Ps 89:30-33)."
If you don't have it yet, you should pick up Octavius Winslow's Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the the Soul.