Sermon 920. Backsliding Healed
DELIVERED ON LORD'S-DAY MORNING, MARCH 13, 1870,
BY C. H. SPURGEON,
AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
"I will heal their backsliding." Hosea 14:4.
WHICH rings with the more sonorous voice, the knell, "their backsliding," or the marriage peal, "I will heal"? All throughthe Scripture records there is revealed a vehement contest between man's sin and God's Grace-each of them striving to becomemore abundant than the other. Sin, like a dragon, pours forth floods from its mouth, and God's mercy, as a shoreless ocean,rolls in greater majesty. Sin abounds, so that none can measure its heinousness or power. But where sin abounds Grace doesmuch more abound. In the text sin abounds-"their backsliding." There is a comprehensiveness in that word, a dreadful abyssof iniquity. But Grace abounds yet more, "I will heal their backsliding." Here is a height and depth of Grace like the Godfrom whom it came-incomprehensible and infinite!
I shall ask you, this morning, in order that we may get the full measure of benefit which this text may bestow upon us, underthe teaching of God's Spirit, first, to notice the words of the text one by one. Secondly, to consider the blessing of thetext. And then, thirdly, if we are led of the Holy Spirit, let us not leave this House of Prayer till we have gained the realizationof the text.
I. First, then, let us take THE WORDS OF THE TEXT, "I will heal their backsliding." We shall call your attention first, toa word of humiliation, "backsliding." The very sound of it ought to arouse our spirits. And the consciousness of having falleninto it should make us lay our mouths in their dust, and confess that we are unclean. Backsliding is among God's people verycommon. Not common, perhaps, in its highest degree-God forbid it should be-but in its earlier forms. From its commencementin backsliding-of thought, and heart-on to backsliding in act, I fear the disease is so rife among the people of God thatthere is scarcely one of us who has not at some time or other suffered from it.
And I fear that the most of us might confess, if we judged our own hearts rightly, that in some measure we are backslidingeven now. The proper condition for a child of God is walking in the light as Christ is in the light, and so having fellowshipwith Jesus. Our right condition, and our only safe standing is to abide in Him, and to have His Words and Himself abidingin us. But too often we follow afar off-we are living in very limited and remote fellowship with our Redeemer. These thingsought not to be. There is no necessity that they should be, but alas! Alas! Alas! Search the whole Church through, and youshall find them in multitudes, and in some you shall perceive signs of the most sorrowful decay through an evil heart of unbeliefin departing from the living God.
Think, Beloved, each one of you who are Christ's, how much you may have backslidden of late. Have you not become lax in prayer?You maintain the habit of it, and you could not give that up, but you have not that power in prayer you once had. You stillread the Word, but maybe the Scripture is not so sweet to you as it was before. You come now to the Communion Table-you havenot learned to forsake the assembling of yourselves together there. But oh, the face of the King, in His beauty! Have youseen that as you once did? Perhaps you are still doing a little for His cause, but are you doing what you once did or allyou might do?
Instead of going on unto perfection, is not your growth stunted? Must you not confess that you are not a runner towards Heavenso much as a loiterer in the road there? Do these accusations evoke no confessions? I fear the most of us, if we came to search,would have to say, "I do remember when the love of my espousals was upon me, and my heart was warm with love to Christ. Butnow, alas! How slow are my passions in moving towards Him! O that I could feel once again the glow of my first love, and thatmy spirit did rejoice in Him as on the day of my conversion."
I ask you, Brothers and Sisters, if you have to make such acknowledgments, whether you would have believed such things ofyourselves when you first came to Christ? If a Prophet had told me that I should be so ungrateful to the dear Lover of mysoul, I should have said, "Is your servant a dog, that he should do this thing?" Bought with His precious
blood, and delivered from going down to the pit in those younger days of our attachment, we thought we should evermore closerand closer cleave to our Deliverer. No sacrifice appeared too great, no duty too irksome, if Jesus did but command it.
Yes, we have sorrowfully failed in many respects, and have need to, with deepest sorrow of heart, confess our backslidingand bemoan ourselves before God. But I will not dwell longer upon that word. Such lamentations may end when the heart growstender. If we see sin sufficiently to make us bewail it, we may then look away from it, for the next word which we shall consideris a word of consolation-"heal." "I will heal their backsliding." There is consolation in the very fact that the Lord, here,looks upon the grievous sin of backsliding under the image of a disease.
It is not said, "I will pardon their backsliding," that is included in the term, but "I will heal" it-as though He said, "Mypoor people, I do remember that they are but dust. They are liable to a thousand temptations through the Fall, and they soongo astray. But I will not treat them as though they were rebels, I will look upon them as patients-and they shall look uponMe as a physician." Why there is consolation in the very fact that God should condescend, for Jesus' sake, thus to look uponour loathsome, abominable, ill-deserving, Hell-deserving sin as being, not so much a condemning iniquity in His sight, butas a disease upon which He looks, pitying us that we should endure the power of it.
And then observe-having looked at backsliding as a disease, He does not say, "I will put this diseased one away." Under thelegal dispensation he who had leprosy, or any contagious disease, must be put without the camp, but it is not here said, "Iwill banish them for their backsliding." O my dear Friends, if we had been put out of God's Church, if we had never been sufferedagain to come to His Table, we confess we have richly deserved to have it so, but it is not so written here. It is not, "Iwill put them in quarantine. I will expel them out of the goodly land, and from among My people." No-"I will heal their backsliding."
Nor does He say, "I will destroy them, because of their backsliding." Some will have it that God's people may sin, partiallyand finally, so as never to be the Lord's Beloved again. They say they can sin themselves out of the Covenant. But we havenot so learned Christ, neither have we so understood the Fatherhood of our God-
"Whom once He loves, He never leaves, But loves them to the end."
"The gifts and calling of God are without repentance," on His part towards His people. "The God of Israel says He hates puttingaway." No, it is not, "I will strike their names out of the Book of Life." It is not, "I will disinherit them, seeing theyhave proved unfaithful to Me," but, "I will heal their backsliding." That is to say, whatever their sin may have been I willovercome it, I will drive it out, I will restore them to their first condition of health. I will do more, I will so heal themthat one day without spot or wrinkle or any such thing they shall see their Father's face." A word of consolation!
The next is a word of majesty. It is the first word of the text, "I will heal their backsliding." "I." It is Jehovah Himselfwho here speaks, the Omnipotent, to whom nothing is difficult. The All-Wise, to whom nothing is secret. He has not promisedthat their backsliding shall be healed by unknown means, but that He, Himself, will heal it. Suppose He had said, "I willlet them alone, and see to what their backsliding will turn. It may be, perhaps, after a period it will work out all its venom,and the wound will be cured." No, my Brethren, had we been left to ourselves, our wounds have become corrupt, and our spiritwould have utterly perished. We have gone astray like lost sheep, and one of the ways in which lost sheep go astray is this-theynever think of returning. The shepherd must seek them, or else they will wander further and further from home.
Note well that the Lord does not say in the text, "My Word shall heal their backsliding," or, "I will send My minister toheal their backsliding." He does graciously use His Word-it is His ordained means of blessing His people-and He condescendinglyemploys His ministers, unworthy though they are, to do much service for His children. But after all, it is neither the Wordnor the minister that can do anything-only when the Lord puts His hand to the work is it done effectually. "I will heal theirbacksliding."
Just as Jesus, Himself, going among the sick folk scattered healing here and there, and made yonder lame man leap as a hart,and yonder dumb tongue to sing, opened blind eyes, drove out fevers and chased away devils-even so it is Your touch, Immanuel-itis Your Presence, You Savior of sinners, that does heal us of all our sins. He Himself took our sicknesses, and thereforeHe knows how to deliver us from them. Is not His name Jehovah-Rophi, the Lord that heals you?
And has He not said, "The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell there shall be forgiven their iniquity"?
It is Jehovah that says it! Then rest assured the work will be done. Has He said, and shall He not do it? It is Jehovah thatsays it! However desperate our soul is in sickness, it shall be recovered. For is anything too hard for the Lord? "I willheal their backsliding." Blessed be His name! When you and I feel our backsliding, if it had been said that the backslidingshould be healed by any ordinary means, we should have replied, "Not mine. No, Lord, mine is a case beyond all others, hopeless,helpless, incurable." But when it is said, "I will heal," how it takes away all power to be unbelieving, for what cannot theLord do?
What diseases cannot He chase away? He can speak even to the dead and make them live! Therefore let us have hope in Him, forhowever far we may have gone, and however broken our heart may be concerning it, He can bind up all our wounds and make eachbroken bone to sing-and this shall be the song-"Lord, who is like unto You, passing by transgression, iniquity, and sin, andremembering not the backslidings of your people?" Thus we have had three out of the five words of the text-one for our humiliation.The second for our consolation. And the third for our adoration, since it reveals the majesty of God.
Another word is in the text, which I shall venture to lift up out of the background in which it dwells ordinarily, "I willheal their backsliding." Here is a word of certainty. "I will"-"I will heal their backsliding." But why will He heal? Whydoes He say so positively that He "will"? Here is no perhaps. No perhaps. The men in Nineveh went to God with nothing to encouragethem, but, "who can tell?" But the children of God come to Him with "shalls" and "wills" to plead. I pray you, Backslider,if you desire to return to the Lord this morning, observe the certainty of the text, and plead it. God who says "I will,"is not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man that He should repent.
If He says, "I will," you can say, "Lord, fulfill this word unto Your servant, upon which You have caused me to hope." Butwhy will God heal His people? He will because He has assumed the office of physician, and for a physician to fail in his attemptsreflects upon him no honor. Every patient that the physician loses is so much loss to the fame of his skill. "I will healtheir backsliding," says God. "I have undertaken to save them, and I will go through with it. I have made with them in Christa Covenant, ordered in all things and sure, and I will not suffer one of these, My little ones, to perish, and I will healtheir backsliding."
Are they not His children? Now, if a physician failed to exercise his skill on a stranger, yet surely he will not upon hisown child! There is nothing in the whole compass of pharmacy that the child should not have. There is nothing in all the artof surgery which the surgeon would not exercise upon his own beloved child if he has need of it. Of ALL His children the DivineFather says, "I will heal their backsliding."
Beloved, we have cost our God too dear for Him to suffer us to perish, and perish we must without healing- therefore He willheal us. On every child of God the Father sees the marks of the Redeemer's blood. Every heir of Heaven carries about withhim mementoes that touch the Father's soul, for He remembers well the bloody sweat of Gethsemane, and the groans and criesof the Well-Beloved. You who believe in Jesus cost too much-He cannot let you die. The Lord has loved you too long to letyou perish, for before the foundation of the world His heart went out towards His chosen. From of old His delights were withthe sons of men.
Before you were fashioned and curiously worked in the lower parts of the earth, you lived in the heart of God, and lay uponthe bosom of your Redeemer with Whom, even then, you were accounted as one in the Covenant of Grace. "I will heal their backsliding."No disease shall slay them, no sin shall fester in them so as to destroy them. I, Jehovah, who have chosen them, who haveredeemed them and called them by My Grace, I will heal them." Heaven and earth may pass away, but this Word shall not passaway. Oh, the blessed certainty of the Divine Word!
There is yet a fifth word in the text, and that is a word of personality. "I will heal their backsliding." That is to say,the backsliding, first, of all His Israel. He is speaking of Israel. "I will heal their backsliding"-His own peculiar peo-ple-Hisown elect ones. He Himself shall and will heal them. He will not suffer one of them to become sick with sin that it shallbe fatal to them. That we may know whether we share in this promise we may judge from other words which precede the text.Those of whom He spoke were willing to come to Him and say, "Take away all iniquity, receive us graciously, and love us freely."
If there is any man here who desires to be forgiven for Christ's name's sake because of the Free Grace of God. If there isany here bemoaning his iniquity and desirous to return unto his God. If there is any soul who now sincerely closes in withGod's way of salvation, and would gladly find deliverance from every sin-such a man may be assured that he is one of thoseof whom God has said, "I will heal their backsliding."
Do you hate your backsliding? Do you, like David, cry, "against You, You only have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight,that You might be justified when You speak, and be clear when You judge"? Do your sins pain you? Have they become a very plagueto your heart? Oh, then He will heal your backslidings! Are you earnest in prayer? Do you cry out that He would have pityupon you? Can you weep the penitential tear? Has He looked on you as He looked on Peter, and can you go out and weep bitterly,if not with actual drops that distil externally from the eyes, yet with inward drops that fall within from the still of theheart?
If so, He that breaks hearts always means to heal them. He never yet gave a wounded and a contrite spirit but what He wassure, before long to bring to it a better balm than Gilead ever knew, and to let the blood of Jesus speak better things thanthat of Abel, even peace eternally within that wounded spirit. "Their backsliding"-take the word and turn it to the singularand make it in the first person-say, "Lord, heal my backslidings! Heal those I know not of, 'cleanse You me from secret faults.'I do know some of them, and I mourn them. Deliver Your servant as a bird out of the snare of the fowler, and my tongue shallsing aloud of Your righteousness." So you see the text has a meaning in every one of its words. I have drawn already fivelessons from the five words which it contains.
II. But we pass on to try and bring out more clearly THE BLESSING OF THE TEXT. "I will heal their backsliding." That blessingmust be measured, first, by the evil from which it delivers "backsliding." Backsliding is treated as a disease. Let us speakawhile upon that fact. Let us say, concerning backsliding, that it is one of the most dangerous things into which a childof God can fall. It endangers all present joy. It greatly injures usefulness. And it imperils the future. No professing Christianfalls into the great open sin all at once-much backsliding has gone before.
See the tree blown down by the strong winds. Nine times out of ten, if you look carefully at it, you will see that insectshave been at work at it years before, and rotted it. And, therefore, when at last the trial came, it only consummated whathad long been going on. When, some years ago, many of our greatest commercial houses suddenly collapsed, and bankruptcieswere so terribly frequent, you do not imagine that they lost their money all in a day! In the investigation of their accountsit was proved in many cases that ten, or even twenty years before, the firms began to go back in the world.
Little by little, as a rule, backsliding leads on to overt apostasy and sin. No, no-so mature a servant of the devil as Judasis not produced all at once. It takes time to educate a man for the scorner's seat. Take care, therefore, of backsliding becauseof what it leads to. If you begin to slip on the side of a mountain of ice, the first slip may not hurt if you can stop andslide no further. But, alas, you cannot so regulate sin! When your feet begin to slide, the rate of their descent increases,and the difficulty of arresting this motion is incessantly becoming greater. It is dangerous to backslide in any degree-forwe know not to what it may lead.
It is a defiling thing to backslide, for a man cannot lose the intensity of his love to Christ and holiness without becomingthereby worldly and impure in heart. You cannot be less in prayer without being less like God. Sin is quite certain to seeka dwelling for himself in any heart where the Spirit of God is not actually present. Let your God withdraw His manifest fellowship,and sin is sure to come in to fill up the vacuum. Backsliding mars the whiteness of the righteousness of saints and blotstheir beauty. And as it is defiling, so is it contagious. One Believer cannot be living a life of little Grace without weakeningthose Believers who come into contact with him.
I know some holy men (I wish to be more like they) who are a blessing to all with whom they converse. Wherever they are, likean Oriental perfume, they spread a fragrance all around. Their lives are like the star in the east which led men to Christ.Their graciousness reminds us of the blessing of Asher, whose promise was that he should dip his foot in oil-for whereverthey go they leave the tokens of the unction of the Holy One behind them. But the dark side to this picture is the fact thatif we decline in Grace, our backsliding has a down-dragging tendency on others. The whole army is impeded by the lagging ofa single regiment.
The old naturalists used to speak of a creature they called a remora, which they believed could fasten with its suckers upona sailing vessel and hinder its progress. Backsliding Christians are just such remoras to the good ship of the Church, theyare barnacles upon her, and impede her voyage-
"One sickly sheep infects the flock, And weakens all the rest."
When there is a parliamentary train crawling along in front, even the limited express mail is hindered. When one professoracts in a worldly, careless, indifferent, or covetous spirit, he encourages others to do the same-and the example soon multipliesitself.
I wish I could make you see what a backslider is. I am afraid I cannot, but a simple illustration may help you. Do you rememberthat fine, athletic young man who was for years among us, and was almost envied for his robust health and remarkable vigor?Exertion was to him a pleasure. He rejoiced as a strong man to run a race. Strong as an oak, upright as a palm tree, and comelyas a cedar-you had but to see him to admire him. Alas, we miss him from his usual seat, and his place of daily service knowshim no more. He cannot mix in our assemblies, and never will again. He rises very late in the day, and the slightest motionis labor to him. He has a horrible deep-seated cough, and he is reduced to a skeleton.
His cheeks are sunken. There is a peculiar brightness of the eyes, but, with the exception of that, there is nothing abouthim that reminds you of what he was. And, if you should take a stranger to see him, you would say, "You cannot imagine whatthat young man used to be." His mother weeps to think that this is her son, once the image of manly power. It pains her inmostheart to know that this is certainly her boy, her once strong and healthy boy. Yet he is not dead-no, but it is grievous tosee how near death he has come, and with what difficulty he breathes. How weak are his lips, how languid is his pulse, howsmall his appetite!
The strong man is now weaker than a little child. In fact, man as he is, his father has to take him in his arms and carryhim up and down stairs, for he cannot otherwise come out of his chamber. Here is a sadly truthful picture of what a Christianmay become in spirit. He may suffer spiritual consumption, and decline from weakness to weakness till life barely retainsits hold. He shall not die-for his life is bid with Christ in God. But he may gradually backslide until he is weak as water,and full of doubts and fears, and a thousand ills. The backslider has no strength for service. He renders nothing to the Church,but rather requires other Christians to watch, and help, and tend him.
He wants comforts and cordials, but from them all he has little or no enjoyment-he lives, blessed be God, he lives-but itis a struggling, unhappy, meager life. His religion gives him little rapture and very much anxiety. Few are the promises thathe feeds upon, and many are the threats that haunt him. He will be saved, yet so as by fire. God forbid that you or I shouldrun the frightful risks that backsliders run who thus walk wide of Jesus Christ and dwell far below the elevated region wherespiritual health is sustained. May our souls prosper and be in health. And may we follow the Lord fully and evermore abidein Him.
What a mercy it is that, while we have to give such a distressing description of what backsliding leads to, we can turn tothe text and find it written, "I will heal their backsliding"! Consumption, when it once comes to be really consumption, is,beyond all doubt, utterly incurable by ordinary medicine. And, though many remedies may assist the sufferer and prolong life,yet, as a rule, consumption is the herald of death. And so backsliding is quite incurable by any human means, and would bethe forerunner of total apostasy were it not for Divine Grace. When a man's heart begins to fall from God-like a stone fallingfrom a tower, it descends at an ever-increasing ratio-and none can call it back again to the place from which it fell. Orstop it in midair, except that Divine Hand which can suspend the laws of gravity, arrest the course of sin, and restore thefalling one to his place.
"I will heal their backslidings." I understand, then, the glory of this blessing to lie in this-that though backsliding isof all things most dangerous, most defiling and injurious, and in itself most deadly-yet falling into it, you need not despair.On the contrary, if we have fallen into it, listen hopefully to the Voice which says, "Return, O backsliding children," backedup as it is by the promise, "I will heal their backsliding."
That we may see this blessing in a still clearer light, let us notice the healing itself. What is the healing of backsliding?It may be said to lie in two things, namely, forgiveness of its sin, and release from its power. That eminent man of God,Bishop Reynolds, who has written upon the last two chapters of Hosea, says there is a fourfold healing of backsliding, andI think he is correct. First, as we have said, backsliding is healed when all the sin of it is forgiven. Dwell on that a minute.You have been a backslider. Perhaps you are so now, but God, even the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, can purge you with hyssop,and you shall be clean!
Your leprosy shall depart and your flesh shall become fresh as a little child. "Come now, and let us reason together, saysthe Lord: Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they shall be aswool." "I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." "If anyman sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the Propitiation for our sins." Oh, theblessedness of this! If sin returns upon you, child of God, that Fountain filled with blood, which washed you once, has byno means lost its power. You may wash again, Backslider.
The Mercy Seat is not removed, nor is the permission to approach it revoked. My heart delights to think I may go to Jesusas a sinner, if I cannot as a saint. I want a Savior now as much as ever I did. I want new pardon for new sin. I thank theMaster for having taught us to say every day, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Even those who can say, "OurFather which are in Heaven," with a full assurance begotten in them by the filial spirit of Divine Grace, yet have need toask that sin may be forgiven. We want daily pardon, and we shall have it. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and justto forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
The next fact of healing is the removal of all the injurious effects which sin has caused. A man does not backslide withoutfeeling a tendency to go further into sin-contamination is sure to ensue. Backsliding deprives a Christian of many of hisprivileges. It hides the face of Christ. It darkens the Sun of Righteousness, or rather blinds our eyes to His brightness.It robs us of all present joys. It grieves the Holy Spirit and causes Him to withdraw from us in a measure. Now when it issaid, "I will heal their backsliding," it means this-"I will take away from them all the pollution which their sin has caused,all the injury which their sin has done to their moral and spiritual nature. I will give back to them all that they lost bygiving way to evil."
But, "I will heal their backsliding" means thirdly, "I will take away those judgments which I have sent upon them in consequenceof their backsliding." The Ephraimites were subject to invasions by cruel tyrants because they had revolted from the Lord,but as soon as they repented, God took away the oppressors and so healed their wounds. Now you, perhaps, dear Brother andSister, have been a long while under the rod, and you have said, "Lord, when will You comfort me?" Perhaps His answer is,"I will comfort you when you have fully confessed your wanderings, and forsaken your idols." Hear that rod and Him that hasappointed it. Many a child of God suffers long series of losses and crosses, the cause of which will be found in the factthat he has not fully turned to the hand that smote him.
The Lord will bring His people back. And if one blow does not do it, they shall have another. And if that is not enough, theyshall be smitten with many stripes till at last, with weeping and lamentations, they shall return unto the Lord their God.You know not how many temporal griefs would vanish away like smoke before the wind if your heart were but more humble beforethe Most High. "I will heal their backsliding," that is, "I will take away the temporal chastisement with which I have visitedthem."
Then, again, the fourth kind of healing is the restoration of lost comfort. Instead of the despondency which the Believerfeels, when, day and night the hand of God is heavy upon him, he shall yet rejoice in the Lord. God's children always haveto smart for sin. If they were ungodly they might sin and enjoy the sweet of their stolen waters. But if they are in verydeed the Lord's own people, smart must follow sin. "You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I willpunish you for all your iniquities."
Hear how David cries out, how hoarse his voice is in that fifty-first Psalm, and all through those seven Penitential Psalmshow he dips every verse in the brine of his repentance! He did not find it a profitable or a harmless thing to commit unrighteousness.And so, Brethren, you and I, if we are God's children, will be sure to find that backsliding is a root that bears gall andwormwood. Yet, after his mournful confession and deep soul travail, David received the consolation of God, and his tonguesang aloud of God's righteousness.
He said, "Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation." And God did restore it, and the bones which had been broken were madeto rejoice. This is conclusive healing of our backsliding-when we receive beauty for ashes, and the oil of joy for mourning.Do not believe, O penitent wanderers, that His mercy is gone forever. He is ever mindful of His Covenant, and He will restoreyour souls, and lead you in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. My Brothers and Sisters, if the sin is once drowned,your sorrow shall be assuaged. If you remove the cause, the effect shall follow. Did you once leap like David before the ark,or like Miriam dance to the timbrel of triumph? And have your knees grown stiff, and do your hands hang down through sin?
May the Lord help you to break off your sin by righteousness, and the weak hands shall be strengthened, and the feeble kneesshall be confirmed. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing-for the Lord will again say untoyour soul, "I am your salvation." Your Sun may seem to have gone down, but unto you that fear the Lord He shall arise withhealing beneath His wings. Only return unto the Lord, and He will restore to you "the years which the locust has eaten," forHe has said it, and He will make it good in its fullest extent-"I will heal their backsliding."
Now, Brethren, consider the mode in which this backsliding is healed, for that is part of the mercy. It very frequently happensthat by Divine Grace the healing of backsliding is brought about in God's Providence by severe afflictions. The previous chaptersto this one all go to show how God can act as a lion or a leopard, or as a bear robbed of her whelps, when His people wanderinto sin. But I shall not dwell on that point, only I would say that the severest trial that ever happens to you, if it bringsyou to your God, is a surpassing blessing. I would not, and I dare not, pray that the Lord would keep me from all future afflictionand pain.
"It is good for me that I have been afflicted." "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Your word." Thisis true of all Believers. The Cross is our best earthly heritage. Whenever we imagine that we have won the crown we shouldremember that it would be an unseasonable mercy, for this is not a palace, but a battlefield. But when we feel the Cross itis a seasonable blessing, suitable for followers of the Crucified. "In the world you shall have tribulation."
The connection of the text leads me to remark that our heavenly Father in Christ Jesus heals our backslidings, as a usualrule, by presenting to our minds a fresh sense of His great love. The next sentence seems to say that, "I will love them freely."I never find that my heart is so moved to return unto her rest as when she feels that the Lord has dealt bountifully withher. When I remember that I am still His child, my soul cries, "I will seek again my Father's love." If I believed the doctrineof the final falling of the saints, I fear I should feel no motive urging me to return unto my Lord. I fear I should feelthe hardening effect of slavish fear, and like Hagar, flee into the wilderness.
If the prodigal son had once suspected that he was disinherited and was no more a child, he would have given up all thoughtsof return. And though he confessed that he was not worthy to be called a son, yet he knew he was a son, and so back he came,and his father received him. We are willing to confess that to cast us away would be just, as we are considered in ourselves.But the fact that He has not cast away His people whom He did foreknow draws us with invisible but invincible bonds back toour Lord.
Yes, oftentimes the child of God, when he is cold in heart, has been revived and refreshed by some such thoughts as these-"Heis still faithful to me, though I am faithless to Him. Jesus bought me with His blood, and He will not lose me. In His HeavenI shall dwell, notwithstanding all this unworthiness of mine. O my Heart, how can you be so like an iceberg to Him when Hehas loved you despite your innumerable faults? How can you give your eternal Benefactor so base a
The great furnace of Christ's love sends out sparks which fall into our hearts, and then they also begin to glow-
"Depth of mercy, can there be
Mercy yet reserved for me?
Can my God His wrath forbear?
Me, the chief of sinners spare?" Does He bid me return to Him, and does He say, "I am married unto you?" "How shall I giveyou up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver you, Israel? How shall I make you as Admah? How shall I set you as Zeboim?" Oh, then,while God's heart of mercy is moved, our repentings are kindled, our soul melts while our Beloved speaks! Our stony heartis like the rock which gushed with water. The mountains flow down at His Presence! As when the melting fire burns, the firecauses the waters to boil.
We feel revenge against sin, and sacred jealousy is aroused. Then we return unto our first Husband, and our first love! Withweeping and with supplications we return, and with desire we desire Him in the night-
"Love, mighty love, our soul subdues; We fly into our Savior's arms; Her former vow our heart renews, Ravished afresh withmercy's charms. Love is the cord that draws us home, The bond which holds our spirit fast;
Forbids us over again to roam, And captivates us to the last."
It sometimes happens that the healing of our backsliding is as sudden as it is gracious. When we awoke this morning we wereall startled to find how suddenly the ground had been covered with snow. I should not wonder when we leave this place if weshall be almost as much startled to find how soon the snow has disappeared under the rapid thaw.
The Lord who casts forth His ice like morsels can cause His wind to blow so that the waters flow. Have you ever found it soin the little world within? Your heart has been dull and dead, and by a word Jesus has quickened you! "Or ever you were aware,your soul made you like the chariots of Amminadib." Blessed be God, His cures can be worked in a moment! He can raise Hischildren from their graves of backsliding and redeem them from death. Pray that so glorious a work may be worked in you, mydear Brother or Sister. Let me pause awhile to give you space to breathe the prayer-
"Come, Lord, on wings of flaming love,
My spirit to upraise;
Fly like the lightning from above,
And fill my soul with praise."
Even if restoration from backsliding be gradual, Brethren, as sometimes it is-and attended with much mourning and much sorrow-yetis the blessing still so choice that no words of mine can ever express its value. And so I leave it with your hearts to dowhat my lips cannot.
III. The third point was to be THE REALIZATION OF THE BLESSING of the text, but our time is gone. Therefore let me hope thatyou have already obtained it, or will not rest till you have.
If you would be savingly and thoroughly revived from backsliding, earnestly desire it. "O Israel, return unto the Lord yourGod." Set your face towards God. Resolve upon obtaining renewal by His Grace. Then next make a confession of your fault. "Youhave fallen by your iniquity." Acknowledge your grievous fault and be humbled for it. It is a mark that God is recoveringa soul when it is deeply, penitentially, humbled. I have noticed that whenever any who have been excommunicated from thisChurch have been restored, in every case they have walked in lowliness, and won all our hearts by their contrition and littleesteem of themselves.
Whenever those who have grievously transgressed apply to be received again, and at the same time complain of the sentenceof the Church, and of the conduct of the members, I feel that I dare not advise my Brethren to loose them from the sentence.For if they were really penitent, they would find no fault with others, but with many tears would lament their own shortcomings.It is one mark of Grace when the backslider puts his finger on his mouth as to the fault of his Brethren, feeling, "It isnot for me to say a word against any, I am so involved in fault myself, that I dare not throw a stone."
If you would have your backsliding healed, be much in prayer. "Take with you words, and turn to the Lord." Backsliding beginsin forsaking prayer, and recovery will begin in renewing supplication. If you would be recovered, cast away your false confidence." Ashur shall not save us. We will not ride upon horses." Turn Mr. Carnal Security out of doors-he is your enemy and God'senemy-be rid of him! Renounce your idols-"We will not say any more to the work of our hands, you are our gods." You cannotrecover from backsliding while you love any child or friend inordinately, or while anything stands in your heart before Christ.You will never be right while your money holds an undue position in your minds, or while your position in society is moreprecious to you than Christ. Away with your idols, or they will cry, "Away with Christ." Either give them up, or give up hope.
Lastly, return again by simple faith to God in Christ, remembering that in Him the fatherless find mercy. If you are likean orphan, having none to help or to provide for you, and feel your spiritual destitution, then, in confidence in the aboundingGrace of God, return to Him and live. O Brethren, let us all seek to get nearer to Christ! Let us all take the eagle's motto,"Higher, higher, higher." Soar yet beyond. Let us seek to attain what we have not as yet known. And as for the things whichremain, let us hold them fast that no man take our crown. "What we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, letus mind the same thing."
Let us not decline from our first love, but rather, "not as though we had already attained, either were already perfect,"let us forget the things which are behind, and press forward to that which is before, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisherof our faith. The Lord bless His Church richly, and send His dew upon Israel. And make us all to grow in Divine Grace andthe knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For His name's sake we ask and expect it. Amen.