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VICTORY OTHERS HAVE GAINED.
323 whose years are those ? more than probable not yours, not mine. But if they were, fourscore years or fourscore moments are the same, when compared with those boundless, endless oceans of ages that eternity contains. O the heights, and depths, and lengths of that love, which gives as a free gift to an unworthy sinner that eternal life! Precious encouragement for following the Lamb, through light or darkness, life or death! Look to him, and look to heaven, then onwards go, till life concludes, and Jesus gives the crown.
$ 1. MAN
ANY are the painful spectacles presented in this
world to the Christian's view ; but none more painful than to see those, who once promised fair for heaven, turning back into perdition. In all ages this sad sight has been too frequently beheld. Among the twelve apostles was a Judas, who betrayed his Lord. Among the companions of the blessed Paul was a Demas, who forsook him, “having loved this present world.” Ainong those to whom he preached the gospel were foolish Galatians, who, as if bewitched, obeyed not Jesus crucified ; and fallen Corinthians, of whom he said, “ I fear lest my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned, and have not repented of the uncleanness, and fornication, and lasciviousness, which they have committed."
No new thing then happens to the flock of Jesus, when some of whom they once hoped well, forsake the Lord. Nor, though it pain, need this discourage his sincere disciples. He knows his own, and says of them, “ Thou hast a few names even in Sardis, that have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy."
CAUSES OF BACKSLIDING.
§ 2. The causes of backsliding are many, and various. is to be apprehended that a cause, which operates in many cases, is the want of real grace. Many profess religion, who never possessed it. When they fall away the church of Christ sustains no real loss; the number travelling to heaven is not diminished; for they were hypocrites or self-deceivers. The word of God represents this, as a principal cause of backsliding “ They went out from us, but they were not of us." “ He that receiveth the seed into stony places, is he that heareth the word, and with joy receiveth it: yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while.”
Persons of this description never were the children of God. They might seem pleased and profited, but the root was always wanting. The foolish virgins were always different from the wise. They had the lamp; but they never had the oil: no one is truly a disciple of Christ who does not at heart forsake all things for him. Many profess religion that are never brought to this. They leave some sins, they make some sacrifices, while their feelings are roused, and perhaps they stand for a time; but when the world bids high enough for their services, they renounce religion, and return to the ways they professed to forsake. A celebrated statesman used to say, that every man has his price. However we may disbelieve this assertion, we may assert, that every one who professes religion without being truly converted to God, has, as to this world, his price. For some the world must bid higher than for others. The offer of an ungodly, but pleasing, wife or husband, is a price sufficiently high for multitudes; for this they will forsake their profession, and renounce their Lord and Christian friends. Others want a higher price; but all who have not the root of religion within, will only stand their ground, till the world tempts them with something sufficiently valuable, in their esteem, to draw them aside. Love to the world is a common cause of backsliding. “ Demas hath forsaken me," said the apostle Paul, “ having loved this present world." Anxious cares respecting the things of time, and inordinate attachment to them, occasion others to fall away. • The cares of this world,” among the lower and middling classes of society, and “ the deceitfulness of riches,” among the wealthy, " and the lusts of other things entering in,” in all stations and ranks and
Jo not openly
BACKSLIDING, SECRET AND OPEN.
325 ages, choke the word, and they become unfruitful."
The fear of man insnares
some; the love of gain entangles others; worldly companions, and worldly marriages, draw mula 3. Backsliding may properly be distinguished into secret
open. The former takes place in the case of those, who vital
renounce religion ; but who no longer feel its power, or on whom its influence is gradually declining: Such Jesus
, after commending their labours, fidelity, and patience, added, “ Nevertheless 1 have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love."d Such also was the case of many in the church at Sardis, when the Saviour said, “I know thy works, that thou hast a name, that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die."e Such also, in a still more deplorable degree, was their case at Laodicea, of whom he said, « Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." In none of these cases was the form of religion laid aside. But, alas ! its life was going, or gone. They at Ephesus, who had fallen least, had left their first love. That they had dreadfully, though secretly, and inwardly, fallen, is evident from the admonition which the Lord ad. dressed to them. They at Sardis had sunk still lower. All was not dead, but all was dying. They at Laodicea had sunk the lowest, and they were in a kind of middle state between the careless worldling and the zealous Christian. Not cold, as those who are dead to every religious feeling ; not hot, as those who are pressing on to glory; but like lukewarm water, in a middle condition, between ihe cold and the hot.
As some thus secretly backslide by losing love to the Saviour and religion, others do so by forsaking him as the ground of their hope. The apostle evidently represents the Galatians as falling away from Christ : “ Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” The sin of those, who were thus addressed, c) Mark iv, 19. (d) Rev. ii. 4,5. (e) Rev. iii. 1, 2. () Rev. iii. 15–17.
PROGRESS OF BACKSLIDING, appears to have been the uniting the works of the law with Christ, as the ground of their dependence. In doing so they are described as getting into a state, in which they would lose their interest in the Saviour, and thus in reality fall away from him.
Secret backsliding is inexpressibly dangerous. Persons who have thus declined from religion, may yet maintain its outward forms, frequent the house of prayer occasionally, keep up some connexion with the church of Christ, and feel few or no suspicions respecting their real state. The Lord describes such as saying, That they are rich, and have need of nothing; but declares that they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. How dreadful is their delusion! They think that all is well, when all is ill! and deem all safe for eternity, till they enter that solemn state, and find that their religion was delusion, and that they are lost for ever! How needful a duty is self-examination ! how needful is it to watch the heart, and to keep the heart with all diligence, since out of it are the issues of life!
Open backsliding takes place when they who have lost the life and power of religion, openly forsake their adherence to the Saviour, and return to the world, to folly, and sin.
§ 4. In both cases backsliding is an inexpressibly dreadful evil. No language can describe its mischief, and where wilful and continued, no words express its enormity.
This dreadful evil is commonly a gradual evil. Few are backsliders all at once. Backsliders in turning from God and happiness, commonly go step by step, till they plunge into final apostasy, and eternal perdition. First, love to the Saviour and religion declines in their hearts. As this love lessens, their hatred to sin becomes weaker, and the world regains its influence. Some then give way to a spirit of pride, and vanity, and self-importance. Others yield their affections to the world. They allow this to be busy with them in their closets, and in the house of God. By degrees secret communion with God is neglected. Little delight is found in devotion, and private prayer is first occasionally, and then habitually, disregarded. If at the head of a family, family worship is dropped. Public duties are soon affected. They grow less attentive to the house of God. Its services are thought long and tedious; and first one is neglected and then another.
PROGRESS OF BACKSLIDING.
327 The Lord's table is slighted. Social meetings for prayer and religious conversation are altogether abandoned. Their inclination is turned another way: they had rather spend two hours a-day in trifling tittle-tattle, than half an hour a-week in seeking spiritual benefit. They grow more and more wearied of the strictness of religion. Their taste for its pleasures gradually dies. Their Christian friends are forsaken. They grow tired of true friends, and pleased with false ones; like the Israelites who were pleased with the spies, but thought Joshua and Moses their enemies. They form new intimacies, or revive old ones, with those that are strangers to the path of peace. At length they become again mere followers of the world; and their conduct and deportment are commonly suited to their fallen condition. Do Christian friends endeavour to stop them in their progress to destruction, in some a few painful feelings are excited, some half-formed resolutions are made; but all soon vanishes, and again they pursue their declining path. Others receive with disgust the warnings of Christian friendship; and go on without perceiving their folly and insensible of their guilt. “I do not perceive that I am fallen,” says the lukewarm professor. Unhappy man! why then do all else perceive it? Why is your place at the house of God so often empty? Why are all religious exercises with your Christian friends neglected ? Why is the table of the Lord slighted? Why is the prosperity of the Saviour's cause a matter of no concern to you? Why so different from what you once were ? “Oh," replies the self-deceiver, “ I am dissatisfied. The minister does not preach as he used to do, nor friends behave as they formerly did.” Such are the excuses and complaints of many backsliders. Unhappy creatures! they are like a man that having lost his sight, finds fault with the sun instead of his eyes, and says of that bright luminary at noon-day, “ It does not shine as it used to do.”
$ 5. On the guilt and mischiefs of backsliding, the writer will insert with some small alterations a letter, written several years ago to a young female, who had fallen from religion, but of whose restoration there appeared some flattering, though alas ! delusive hope.
“ My dear friend, “ Allow me by writing a few lines to you, to give you