Sermon 590. The Backslider'S Way Hedged Up
DELIVERED ON SUNDAY MORNING, SEPTEMBER 18, 1864, BY C. H. SPURGEON,
AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
She said, I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink. Therefore,behold, I will hedge up your way with thorns and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow afterher lovers, but she shall not overtake them. Andshe shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then wasit better with me than now." Hosea 2:5-7.
GREAT and grievous was the apostasy of the seed of Abraham from the Lord their God. They had been chosen by special Gracefrom among all people and had the high honor to receive the oracles of God-yet they were bent on backsliding from God andwere unfaithful to the Most High. The gods of thesurrounding heathen were constantly a snare to them and they forsook the only living and true God to prostrate themselvesbefore blocks of wood and stone. Though chastened a thousand times they learned nothing by the rod. And though as frequentlyforgiven and visited with mercy, theholy bonds of gratitude did not bind them to their God. As an abandoned woman leaves a kind and tender husband for the baselove of the vilest of the vile, even so both Israel and Judah played the harlot towards the Lord who had espoused them ininfinite love.
Yet God has not even now written a bill of divorcement, or cast away the people whom He did foreknow. Through eighteen hundredyears the sons of Israel have had to wander to and fro without a settled dwelling place, yet God has not utterly given themup or broken His Covenant with them. For the dayshall come when Israel shall return, when again she shall be called Hephzibah, and her land Beulah. Come, long expectedday! Appear, glorious King of the Jews! And you, O Judah, return from your captivity! Shake yourself from the dust-put onyour beautiful garments and salutethe Lord, your Ishi, your tender loving Husband!
Beloved Brothers and Sisters, the apostasy of the children of Israel has been recorded for our learning. As they were proneto wander, so are we-and the methods by which God brought them back of old are precisely those which He uses with His erringchildren at the present day. Instead ofwondering at Israel's wickedness, let us examine ourselves and repent for our sins! And while we see the hand of God uponthem, let us learn to admire those methods of unerring wisdom by which Divine love preserves the ransomed ones from goingdown into the pit.
In considering our text, my aim will be to be used as the Holy Spirit's instrument to arouse, instruct and restore backsliders.Such wanderers may be present now. Their first love they have lost and their zeal is quenched. There may be some here whohave gone further still and have forsaken theChurch of God altogether, having given up their profession and all attendance upon Divine worship. O that the voice of Israel'sGod may be heard in their hearts this morning, crying, "If a man puts away his wife and she goes from him and becomes anotherman's, shall he return untoher again? Shall not that land be greatly polluted? But you have played the harlot with many lovers, yet return again toMe, says the Lord."
I. We commence the consideration of the passage before us with the remark that WHILE SINFUL MEN ARE IN PROSPERITY THEY PERVERTTHE MERCIES OF GOD TO THEIR OWN INJURY, making them instruments of sin and weapons of warfare against God. While the childrenof Israel enjoyed an abundance of temporalcomforts they ascribed all these blessings to their false gods. Hear the wicked and treacherous words-"I will go after mylovers who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink." Oh, base ingratitude to their bounteousJehovah! Infamous ascriptionof His Glory to graven images!
Prosperous sinners make three great mistakes. At the outset they give their temporal mercies the first place in their hearts.Because their business prospers they do not consider that their soul is perishing! Because there is enough on the table forthemselves and for their children they forgetthat their soul is famished for lack of Heaven's bread! They put the shadows of time before the realities of eternity. Theysay, "We must live." But they forget that they must also die. So long as the current glides smoothly and the gentle flow ofthe river of their joy isundisturbed they forget the waterfall, red with the blood of souls, down whose tremendous steeps those treacherous waterswill soon hurry them!
Is it not a gross mistake to attach so much importance to this poor body of clay and forget the priceless jewel of the immortalsoul? Why do you think so much of a world in which we only tarry for a few evil years and neglect the world where we mustdwell forever? Such folly is most shameful in onewho was once a professed Christian, because he knew, or professed to know, somewhat of the superiority of the eternal overthe temporal. He supposedly knew of the vanity of things earthly and the glory of things heavenly.
Yet because things go well with him-because his wife is in health, his children blooming, his house well furnished, his propertyincreasing, he says, "Soul, take your ease," and disturbs not himself though Heaven is black with lowering tempest and thelight of God's countenance is hidden fromhim. The loss of God's Presence, the man thinks to be a trifle because he is succeeding in the world-as though a man shouldcount it nothing to lose his life if he may but keep his raiment whole to be buried in!
O Fools, why do you put the last things first and the first things last? One error leads to another and therefore such peoplehold their temporal things upon a wrong tenure. Do observe how many times the word "my" is found in the text. "Give me mybread and my water and my wool and my flax, my oiland my drink." Why, they were not hers but God's, for the Lord expressly claims them all in the ninth verse and threatensto take them all away! Backslider, there was a time when you did confess yourself to be God's steward-when you said, "I amnot my own, but bought with aprice." Yet now you have so set your heart upon worldly things that all your talk runs in this fashion-my horses, my houses,my lands, my profits, my children and an endless list of things which you think to be altogether yours.
Why, Man, they are not yours! They are only lent you for a season! You are but God's under-bailiff. You have possession onlyas tenant-at-will, or as a borrower holding a loan. The Lord claims even now the prior right to all you have and the day shallcome when He shall show you this! For if He hasmercy upon you-and I pray He may-He may take these from you one by one and make you cry out in abject wretchedness of soul,"O God, forgive me that I made these my gods and claimed them as my own!"
Then further, backsliders are apt to ascribe their prosperity and their mercies to their sins. I have even heard one say,"Ever since I gave up a profession of religion I have made more headway in business than I did before." Some apostates haveboasted, "Since I broke through Puritanical restraintand went out into worldly company, I have been better in spirits and better in purse than ever I was before." Thus theyascribe the mercies which God has given them to their sins and wickedly bow down before their lusts, as Israel did beforethe golden calf and cry, "These are yourgods, O Israel, which brought us up out of the land of Egypt!"
Sinner, if you did but know it, a long-suffering God has given you these things! Even to you who will perish He has givenmany mercies as your portion in this life, seeing that you have no heritage hereafter. O take heed, lest you be fattened uponthem as beasts for the slaughter. Unto you,Backsliders, He has given these things to try you, to see how far you will go-to what extravagances of ingratitude you willdescend and how far you will despise His tender means. O Backslider, is it not marvelous that God has not long ago stretchedyou upon a bed of sickness,when you consider how much you have brought dishonor upon Christ's name-how you have vexed God's people-how you have madethe wicked open their mouths against God?
Is it not a wonder that He did not take you away with a stroke when you first forsook Him? And yet, see-instead of this, Hemultiplies your mercies! Does He not as good as say, "Return unto your rest for I have dealt bountifully with you. I am marriedunto you and therefore I treat you as ahusband treats his spouse. Although I might well proclaim a divorce against you, yet since I have betrothed you unto Meforever, My goodness and mercy shall not leave you even in your sins." Herein lies the gross mistake of the backslider-thathe will attribute his presenthappiness and comfort to his sins rather than to the forbearance of God.
Here are three great errors and oh, I fear they are so deadly that unless God interposes in Providence and in Grace, theywill be as fatal as the three darts which Joab thrust through the heart of Absalom as he was dangling by his proud hair inthe wood of Ephraim! I fear that the goodly Babyloniangarment and the talents of silver and the wedge of gold will ruin you as they did Achan of old. These three falsehoods,like the three daughters of the horseleech, will never be satisfied until they have utterly destroyed your soul! You willbe wrapped in fine linen and faresumptuously and all this shall but ensure you the torments of the damned.
Go now, weep and howl for the miseries which shall come upon you-your riches are corrupted! Your garments are moth-eaten!Your gold and silver are cankered and the rust of them shall be a witness against you and shall eat your flesh as it werefire. You have forsaken the right way and aregone astray-following the way of Balaam who loved the wages of unrighteousness. Hear the Word of the Lord by the mouth ofHis servant Peter! Tremble at it and be afraid-"If after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledgeof the Lord and SaviorJesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For ithad been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holycommandment delivered unto them. Butit is happened unto them according to the proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again. And the sow that was washed,to her wallowing in the mire."
II. Let us turn from this gloomy side of our subject and observe with gratitude that THE LORD INTERPOSES
ADVERSITY IN ORDER TO BRING BACK HIS WANDERING CHILDREN. Let us consider for a moment the hindrances which a God of Love frequentlyputs in the way of His elect when they backslide from Him. Here we have the matter opened up to our attention. "Therefore,behold, I will hedge up your way with thornsand make a wall, that she shall not find her paths."
Here you see that it is an unexpected hindrance, for it is placed right in the woman's way-"I will hedge up your way"-it washer way, her habit-she had fallen into it and she meant to keep on. But suddenly she met with an unlooked-for obstacle. Justas farmers, when a public pathruns through their field and persons begin to wander too much into the grass or corn, will put up bushes to keep the publicto the path. Or just as ranchers, to keep their cattle in their fields, make thick thorn hedges which the beasts cannot breakthrough, so God puts a thornhedge of troubles right in the way of His chosen to stop them in their sins.
This hedge may be placed in your way in different shapes-perhaps you will meet with it this day. I see the hand of God asit touches the elect but erring man! Suddenly business grows slack-customers fall off one by one-bad debts multiply. Bankruptcystares him in the face. Wherehe had enough to lavish on his pleasures he now has not enough to supply his needs. A mighty famine has arisen in the landof sin and he begins to be in need. He little expected this. If anybody had told him when he was so proudly driving that fast-trottinghorse along the streetsthat he would come to hard work, he would have laughed him to scorn!
He thought he should live like a millionaire, but now he seems far more likely to die a pauper. Or it may be that sudden sicknesshas fallen upon his once strong and healthy person. He could drink with the most drunken and no voice could ring so loud ashis in the midnight revelry. But now he isparalyzed-he has lost the use of half his limbs! Or perhaps some internal complaint has weakened him and made him totteralong the road in constant jeopardy of sudden death. Now the smooth road is rough, indeed, and the world has lost its manycharms.
Ah, Sinner, the sound of music is hushed for you and the joys of the flowing bowl are yours no more. Your foaming tankards,your wantonness and chambering are gone-Mercy has torn them from you in love to your soul! Possibly the hedge is made of otherthorns-perhaps the man's childrensickened. There are many funerals in the house in quick succession. That first-born son, the expected heir, the joy of hisfather's heart falls like a withered flower. His wife is cut off as a lily snapped from its stalk and he stands weeping-awidowed husband-achildless man. Any of these ways, and thousands more which I need not here recount, are God's methods of building wallsacross the way of those whom He ordains to bless.
When the man breaks through one hedge, the Lord of Mercy will build another and maintains His hedges at such a degree of strengththat the bullock which is most accustomed to the yoke shall not be able to push through. O Backslider, the Divine finger cantouch you in the most tender part and thoughup to this moment you have boasted, "Nobody can make me wretched! Nothing shall ever make me fret," yet He can shut youup in such despair that none can remove the heavy bar! Think of what your brain may yet become-it is cool and calculatingnow and you can clearly see thatyour fellows are left behind in the race of competition-but remember how soon an unseen cause may soften that brain intoimbecility, or excite it into incipient insanity! How soon may that boasted brain become like a burning sea throbbing withwaves of fire!
Beware lest such a visitation become the prelude of the wrath eternal! My prayer for you is that more gentle means may bringyou to repentance. But to that you will never come unless the Lord hedges up your way with thorns. Observe that it was a verydisappointing impediment. While the prosperoussinner was securely pursuing his way he was stopped. "Why," says the man, "if it had not been for that, I should have madea fortune. Why did death come just when my fair girl looked so lovely in the bloom of opening womanhood and when my dear boyhad grown so engaging that hiscompany was my delight? Ah, this is trouble, indeed! To meet with misfortune just when I had built that new house and heldmy head so high, and expected to see my daughters so respectably married-why, this is very disappointing."
And the man kicks. And though once he professed to be a child of God, yet it is painfully possible that he is ready to curseGod and die. But if he knew-oh, if he knew the Divine motive-he would thank God for his troubles on bended knees! You rememberthat story of the painter in St.Paul's when on high he painted his picture upon the ceiling? As he went backward upon the stage to look at it and was soengrossed with his occupation he was just on the edge of the stage and in great danger of being dashed to pieces by a fallfrom that dizzy height. A friend sawhim and knowing that if he called out to him he would be startled and thus his fall might be hastened, he took up a brushfull of paint and threw it at the picture. The desired effect was produced, for the painter in great anger rushed forwardto upbraid him and thus his life wasspared!
God seeing you painting a fair scene of life and happiness on earth suddenly spoils it all-you rush forward, crying out againstHim. But oh, what reason have you to thank Him for that disappointment which has robbed Satan of his prey and saved your soul!Moreover, what painful hindrances ourheavenly Father often uses. He hedges the sinner's path not with rhododendrons and azaleas, not with roses and laurels,but with thorns. Prickly thorns which curse the soil and tear the flesh are God's instrument of restraint. Nothing but a thornhedge would have stopped theman-he was so madly set upon his present course that he would dash through anything else.
But God, whose eternal mercy has marked that man out as a special object of love, uses the most effectual remedies and plantsa fence of thorns. Are you smarting this morning-so smarting that you wish you had never been born? Do you feel so much thecuts and lashes of evil fortune that youwould sooner end your existence than continue any longer as you are? I bless God for this, if you are one of His children,for it is this and this only, that will change your ways!
Furthermore, the fence is effectual if the thorn hedge will not suffice-it is written, "I will make a wall." There are someso desperate in sin that they will break through ordinary restraints. Then a wall shall be tried through which there is nobreaking, over which there is no climbing. Ah,Backslider! Backslider! Perhaps you have already broken through the thorn hedge-your trials have not been sanctified. Ihave known some who have had enough trials, one would think, to have melted a heart of adamant and yet they have set theirfaces like a flint against God andgone on worse than ever. "Who is Jehovah, that I should obey Him?" said Pharaoh, when he was vexed with many plagues. Andso have you said!
God, I trust, will not destroy you as He did Pharaoh, but He will break, one way or another, the iron sinew of your proudneck. For when it comes to a wrestle between God and you, you may be sure of a fall! The Lord never was defeated, even bythe stoutest adversary and He will not, in your case,be frustrated in His design. If you are really one of His chosen, you shall meet with an affliction such as perhaps younever heard of in any other man. And if nothing but this will stop you, He will invent some new form of disease, some freshmethod of pain in order to get at yoursoul. If you cannot be saved by the gentle wind, He will send the storm.
If this suffices not, He will try the hurricane and if you will not run into port even then, tornado shall follow tornadotill you are broken to pieces like a wreck and compelled to swim to the Rock of Ages for rescue. These are but parts of Hisways and even His hard things are full of mercy. Thetender mercies of the wicked are cruel, but the cruel things of God are full of tender mercy! He only uses these methodsbecause nothing else will do and He would sooner that you should enter into Heaven with every bone broken, than that you shoulddescend into Hell with the fulluse of your powers.
III. In the third place, you would think that the sinner would now stop, but instead of it, according to the text,
EVEN THOUGH GOD WALLS UP THE WAY OF SIN, MEN WILL TRY TO FOLLOW IT, BUT IN THE CHOSEN
THIS RESOLVE WILL BE IN VAIN. "She shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them. And she shall seek them,but shall not find them." Do you see the man? He has suffered such loss that he cannot find the means to sin as he used todo! Where he had money to spend to indulge himselfhe now finds an empty purse but yet he tries to do his worst.
He goes up and down that wall to see if there is not a hole in it somewhere. He tries to scramble over it where there is aprojecting stone-he climbs half-way up, and falling, cuts his hands-but he will try again and again. He runs all along thatthorn hedge and looks and looks againfor a gap and oh, if he could find but one! If he could but escape from God's boundaries! If he could but scrape enoughmoney together to have another debauch. If he could find just enough to play the gentleman again. But he cannot-he has nomeans whatever to indulge his sin.
Perhaps the case runs another way-God has taken away from the man all the pleasure of sin. He cannot be so satisfied as heused to be with his money. As he puts it into the till he despises it-and when he sees it accumulating at his banker's itonly brings him care and no content asonce it did. His children turn out, one by one, a curse to him. In business everything seems determined to plague him. Whereasat the theater he could gaze and listen with ecstasy, the whole affair is now tame and dull. Those wines, so full of flavor,have now, through his satietylost their usual charm. Let him do what he will, the world is all a blank and wretchedness for him!
Like Tiberius he would give a mint of gold to anyone who would invent him a new pleasure or restore the vigor of the old.But no, the thorn hedge is too well made-the Great Farmer has planted it too well. The sinner would become a spiritual suicidebut he cannot, let him desire it as he may.He is desperately set on destruction as though it were to be desired. O Sinner, how is this-how has the fall spoilt us thatwe should be so enamored of our own destruction? O my God, what a creature is man! Though he knows that sin will be his ruin,yet he hugs it as though itwere his chief mercy! He heaps to himself destruction as though it were gold and digs for his own ruin as for hid treasure!
Oh, if the righteous were half as intent in seeking after goodness as the wicked are in hunting after sin, how much more activewould they be! If we were half as strongly set upon the things of God as sinners are set upon their own ways and their ownpleasures, we should have no waverers, no timid,cowardly spirits! Truly this love of sin is so strange that if we did not see it in ourselves we should wonder at it! ButChristian, this is in you as much as in the worst of men! You, too, if it had not been for Divine mercy, would have plungedon from bad to worse. If Omnipotenceitself had not seized the reins and turned us into the way of Truth, we should at this moment have been dashing on in theroad of sin!
I say if Omnipotence itself had not interposed-it was not the minister, it was not conscience, it was not merely Providence.It was more than this-Jehovah's own right arm threw back the horse on its haunches and cast the rider to the ground as Hedid Saul at Damascus, or else we shouldhave hastened on to our destruction and perished through the hardness of our hearts. Let us sing unto Him whose mighty mercyhas rescued us and let us pity those whom the restraints of Providence cannot bind-those who will, if they can-leap throughstone walls to havetheir way and their sin.
Thus, dear Friends, we have presented to you the deplorable picture of the infatuated sinner, perfectly infatuated and drunkenwith the love of sin and enmity to God! And Mercy itself, so far as we have gone, foiled of its purpose. The thorn hedge notenough-the stone wall not enough. Whatshall come now?
IV. Our next business is to consider THAT THE BACKSLIDER'S FAILURE IS FOLLOWED BY A BLESSED RESULT. The hunt was very arduousbut the greedy hunter has missed his prey and there he sits weary with the chase and ashamed of himself. What comes of it?Do observe it, for the result is one which I hopeyou and I know already. "Then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then it was better with me thannow." O Lord, teach some who are here this morning to pray this prayer!
Observe here is repentance attended with sorrow. The poor creature in this case feels, deeply feels to the very soul, thewretchedness of her condition. She is in so bad a plight that though she had despised her former state she now confesses itto be better. Observe that it is an activerepentance. It is not merely "I will return," but, "I will go and return." When the Grace of God sets a backslider uponreturning, he will stir up all the powers of his soul to seek after God. He cries, "My soul waits for the Lord more than theythat watch for the morning." I saymore than they that watch for the morning.
There is much earnestness in a sinner seeking Christ, but, if possible, there is more in a backslider returning from the errorof his ways-for he has not only the guilt of sin to mourn over-but the double guilt of having despised the Sav- ior, of havingknown the way of righteousnessand having turned from it. Here are two spurs to make him speed on in his course. Observe, dear Friends, that the confessionwhich this poor soul makes of folly is one which is sustained by the best of reasons. She says, "Then was it better with methan now." Let us see whether thisis not true with you.
Well, Backslider, what have you gained by it, after all? Have you gained anything more comfortable than the light of yourFather's face. You once could say, "Abba, Father!" You rejoiced to know that God was at peace with you. You were reconciledto Him by the death of His Son. Now God is angry withyou! Your fears tell you that He has forgotten to be gracious. What can make up for this loss? When God lights a candle,what brightness is in the room! But when God's candle is gone, where is the sun and where the moon? They give no light toyou.
Before, when you were in your right senses, you had the privilege of going to the Throne of Grace. You could tell your needsbefore God and spread your sorrows there. But you have no Throne of Grace to go to now. Why, you scarcely dare pray! As foryour friends, you would not like to tell them yourtroubles. Poor Prodigal, what sorry friends are those who waited on you in your days of wealth! They sat with their legsunder your mahogany and drank your wine while you had any-but you know that you would be a fool to expect any help from themnow that you need it.
Your lovers have forsaken you and those who once were so kind-where is their love now? Do I see one among you who has beencast off by her companion in sin and shame! Ah, Woman! Poor wretched Woman! Have you been made to feel that smart so commonto those who sin as you have done-castinto the street by him who first decoyed you by his fair promises of love? Your case is but one of many and there are thousandswho find that the world knows not what faithfulness means.
First sin deludes, deceives, and pretends to love and then afterwards it casts off its victims. Ah, you had a father's houseto go to and a father's mercy to plead. But you do not have it now-it was better with you then than now. And then, you hadGod's promises to fall back upon. If you hadany trouble, you opened your Bible and there was a passage to cheer you. When you had losses, the cheering words exactlymet your case. But now that Book is full of fire-it flashes lightning upon you as you read it-there is not a promise therewhich smiles on you!
Your fears whisper that the treasury of God is shut against you. Once you had communion with Christ Jesus-ah, now I toucha tender string-you did sit at the banqueting table of Christ! Unless you were awfully deceived and a gross hypocrite, youcould say, "He has kissed me with thekisses of His mouth." After this, how could you go to the door of that deceiver Madame Wanton! How is this? O Soul, if youhave ever known the love of Christ I am sure you will say, "It was better with me then than now."
What can the world afford you comparable to fellowship with Jesus? One hour upon His bosom is worth ten thousand years inthe palaces and courts of the world's wealth and royalty and you know that it is so. There is no room to entertain a comparisonfor a moment-
"What peaceful hours you once enjoyed, How sweet their memory still But they have left an aching void The world can neverfill."
O that your repentance, fixed upon such reasons as these, may be deep! May you make a confession of your extreme folly andnow fall down before God and find mercy!
To close this point, this repentance was acceptable. It is not often that a husband is willing to take back his wife whenshe has so grossly sinned, as the metaphor here implies. And yet observe that God is willing to receive the sinner, thoughhis sin is even more aggravated. By the mouth ofJeremiah He speaks these words-"Return unto Me, for I am married unto you." I do not know anything which should make thebackslider's heart break like the doctrine of God's immutable love to His people! Some say that if we preach that "whom onceHe loves He never leaves, butloves them to the end," it will be an inducement to man to sin.
Well I know man is very vile and he can turn even love itself into a reason for sinning, but where there is as much as evenone spark of Grace, a man cannot do that. A child does not say, "I will offend my father because he loves me." It is not evenin fallen human nature, generally, unlessinspired by the devil, to find motives for sin in God's love and certainly no backsliding child of God can say, "I willcontinue in sin that Grace may abound." They who do so show that they are reprobates and their damnation is just.
But the backslider who is a child of God at the bottom, will, I think, feel no cord so strong to hold him back from sin asthis. Backslider, I hope it will also be a golden chain to draw you to Christ. Jesus meets you, meets you this morning. Youwere excommunicated. You were driven out from amongGod's people with shame but Jesus meets you, and pointing to the wounds which He received in the house of His friends atyour hands, He nevertheless says, "Return unto Me, for I am married unto you." It is a relationship which you have brokenand it might legally be broken foreverif He willed it-but He does not will it-for He hates divorce.
You are married to Jesus. Come back to your first Husband, for He is your Husband still! The Fountain which washed you oncecan wash you again. "Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, theyshall be as wool." The robe of righteousness whichcovered you once can cover you again! Though you have cast it from you with scorn, yet it is yours and the Father bids Hisservants bring forth the best robe and put it on you. He says, "Come to Me!" You have forgotten the Lord, but He has not forgottenyoul You love sin, but Hewill change your will and set your heart upon Himself, for He is determined that you shall be His forever!
Is not this a soul-melting doctrine? If there is so much as a spark of spiritual life in you, I think you will say, "Againstsuch love as this I cannot sin! Against such tender mercy I will not rebel-I will return unto my first husband, for then itwas better with me than now." I do not know,but I may be speaking very pointedly and personally to some here-I hope I am. I know that the most of you are not in thiscondition and for this I thank my God. I pray you, however, lift up your hearts in prayer for those who are and ask my Masterthat as this bow is drawn ata venture He may direct the arrow.
There are some such here-I know there are. There are some here who have come this very morning with no idea that God wouldmeet with them. You have put the reins upon your neck and you have given yourselves up. The restraints of morality can scarcelybind you and yet once you prayed at thePrayer Meeting and sat at the sacramental table and you put on the Lord Jesus Christ by profession in Baptism. But oh, whatare you now? Your life would not bear to be talked of. Your conduct has become so gross and vile you might have expected tohave heard this morning some wordthat should have cut you off forever from hope! But, by God's Grace, instead of it the silver trumpet sounds today withnotes of love and pity. Return! Return !-Your Husband woos you over again-return! For then it was better with you than now.
V. Not to be longer on the point, let us observe in the fifth place that THERE IS AN AWFUL CONTRAST TO ALL THIS. There aresome who prosper in this world until, like a wide-spread tree, they are cut down and cast into the fire. There are backsliders,who, never having had the root of the matter inthem, go back unto their own ways to the land from which they came out and continue there forever. I beseech you never triflewith backsliding. I have put God's Free Grace in the boldest manner that I could just now, but oh, let me warn any man whowould pervert that Free Grace intoan excuse for sin!
Let me warn him against playing with backsliding! One man may roll down a precipice and may scarcely be injured, but I wouldnot try it, for I might break my neck. One man took poison and he was hurried off to the hospital and by the use of properantidotes was spared, but I would not advise you totry it-no I would beg you to put it away from you. Chosen vessels of mercy, notwithstanding their backslidings, are broughtback. But ah, remember that nine out of ten of those who backslide never were God's people! They go out from us because theywere not of us and this isthe history of their lives and may be the history of your life-ah, and may be the history of mine yet!
They joined the Church. They had been greatly impressed under a sermon. They were young, they knew little as yet of the trialsof life-being in the Church they walked consistently for years. They kept the faith. But the Church was cold and they grewcold, too. They neglected weekday services.The closet was forsaken. Family prayer was hardly attended to. Then they forsook the sanctuary altogether, but they werestill moral and upright. They began soon to associate with those whom once they avoided-their business went on well.
They had risen from the lowest grade of society to occupy a middle position. They still prospered-gold accumulated. They werethe successful people. There was a worm at the root of it all, it is true, but nevertheless it looked so fair and seemed sowell. The man did not like to remember thathe ever had gone to that little Meeting House-he felt ashamed that ever he had associated with those whom once he knew tobe the people of God. He went on still accumulating wealth, but one day he was found dead! Shall I pursue his history? InHell he lifts up his eyes intorments forever!
With this as the special worm that never could die to gnaw his conscience-that he did know in his head the way of right-eousness-buthad turned away from it in his heart!
In letters of fire he sees written across that burning sky: "YOU KNEW YOUR DUTY BUT YOU DID IT NOT. You have come from thecup of the Lord to the cup of devils-you turned aside from the people of God to the children of Satan! You deliberately chosethe evil and you forsook the good-youperished not as the ignorant perish, not as they perished who were careless from their birth-not as those who were unvisitedby pangs of conscience, or who knew not the Word! You perished in the light of the Gospel, with the sun of mercy shining uponyour eyeballs! Youperished, though you stood, as it were, on the very doorstep of Heaven! You drifted back to Hell in the teeth of a tideof mercy."
"This, I say, may be your case and mine, if we are not really rooted and grounded in Christ-we may fall by little and little.We may even continue till we die to be Church members and yet backslide in heart by slow degrees until we become rotten throughand through and God casts us on thedunghill. I say by the special and miraculous mercy of God His elect will be ingathered, but take heed, Sirs, that you buildnot on your profession, for profession is no proof of election. You must be born again and only the man who continues to theend shall be saved. May we havesuch perseverance given us, for His name's sake.
VI. With this last we conclude-IS NOT THIS SUBJECT A VERY SOLEMN WARNING TO THE PEOPLE OF
GOD? What some do others may do. If one man falls, another may. If one professor turned out to be a hypocrite, so may another.If one minister reels from the pinnacle of honor and is dashed upon the rocks beneath, so may another. I want to make a personalapplication of this to myself and I pray myBrothers in office behind me, venerable though some of them are in years, to remember that this may be their case.
And you, my associates and fellow members, many of you united to the Church before I was born, remember that age and habitare no security against apostasy! There must be the continual keeping and anointing of the Holy Spirit. I beseech you, andhere I do beseech myself also, let us watch againstthe beginnings of backsliding. Let us take care of the little sins. O let us watch against the little coolnesses of heart.Brethren, no man backslides all at once. Few men who profess to be saints become outward sinners in one step. It is usuallyby little and by little. I pray youdo not forsake the assembling of yourselves together!
Wake up from your coldness in private prayer if this has come over you. If your love to Christ has grown cold stay not inthis state of danger but pray to the Master to inflame your heart again! If any of you have in any respect whatever fallenfrom your first love-if that old enthusiasmwhich was in us as a Church has departed from any of you-pray God to give it back to you. If any of you are not bringingforth such fruit unto God as you used to do, O be suspicious of yourselves! Carnal security may be the Heaven of fools, butit is the ruin ofBelievers-
"Be watchful, be vigilant, dangers may be, In an hour when all seems secure to you"
Especially at this time when the eyes of the world are fixed upon you as a Church and upon me as a witness for God, let uswalk carefully. If ever I might ask your prayers, no, claim them as my right, it is now! I beseech you who love God, ask forme my Lord's upholding Grace that His servant maynot flinch nor turn his back in the day of battle. Ask for yourselves the same, that when the fight shall grow less hotand there shall come an hour of calm and quiet thought, I, your pastor and yourselves, my fellow soldiers in Christ, may lookdown the ranks and say, "Not onecomrade has fallen. The arrows flew thick about them but their armor was complete! The enemy was fierce, but the Mastergave them strength equal to their day. He has kept those whom He gave to us and not one of them is lost."
May it be yours and mine on Heaven's starry steeps to look back upon the superlatively glorious Grace which shall have keptus to the end and brought us to the land where there shall be no more sin! Let us trust the Savior. There is the sinner'shope-there is the saint's strength! Let uscling to the Cross again and may Almighty Grace keep us there and so glorify itself forever. Amen.