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practical bearing of the backslider's daily life,-a bearing and a result which render his guilt but too apparent.
3. Another particular will shed additional light upon the point before us. The backslider, or what is practically the same thing, he who is bent to backsliding, retards the progress of Christianity in the world. He cuts the sinews of its strength. He takes off its chariot wheels. He encumbers it with enormous burdens, piling upon it mountains, while at the same time slipping the belt that connects it with omnipotent power. Hear me, backsliding Christian, for I fancy you know not what you do, while bent on such a course. You treat Christianity as Samson was treated by the perfidious Delilah. By you it is shorn of its strength, divested of its properties as a divine religion, and then divested of much of the energy it might, under other conditions, exert as a human system. In proportion as you give by your daily example a false impression of what true piety is, you veil the essential glory of Christianity. The Saviour intended that the beauty of godliness should appear in your lives. This he expressly enjoined. Clearly then if you veil this beauty you are guilty in no ordinary degree-guilty of downright disobedience, and of the essential and felt obligation to exhibit to others the attractiveness of the gospel. Thus you hinder it. Its blessings will come to fewer households; will gladden fewer hearts, and gladden immeasurably less even those who embrace it, because through your example they will ordinarily follow Christ afar off.
I am speaking, be it remembered, not of all Christians, but only of those whose hearts are but half for God. Every Christian professor whose conscience assures him that he belongs to this number I address with affectionate but earnest remonstrance. Oh, my brethren, why is this? Why consent to hinder the gospel of Christ? Why contract the guilt which this must of course involve? Why not rather cherish for the Saviour's cause a love so intense that it shall be ever a controlling motive, leading you to maintain a close fellowship with him? 4. Consider again as an index of your guilt, that backsliding you cannot be depended on in religion. You are not reliable persons. Christ cannot rely upon you. The Church cannot. Bound to the Saviour by an everlasting indenture, by a covenant which has received your own voluntary assent, it is yet impossible for him to depend upon you. You prove recreant to duty. He bids you go work in his vineyard. The reply is, "I go sir," but you go not, certainly not according to the spirit and extent of his command.
while bent to
He bids you deny all ungodliness, be holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners; he bids you while not slothful in business to be fervent in spirit, to pray without ceasing-have your conversation in heaven-die unto sin daily-take up your cross and
bear it after him-in a word, to be like strangers and pilgrims here, seeking another and a better country, even a heavenly.
So far as the terms of profession go, you meet his demands. You covenant to do all these things, adorning the gospel rather than hindering it-doing good as you have opportunity rather than by your example doing evil. In this course you covenant to persevere to the end. On the strength of these vows-if I may so say-the Saviour entrusts in your hands the prospects and interests of his kingdom. He seems to retire personally to the throne of heaven as though he might safely commit these interests, however vast, to such fair-promising disciples.
But alas, when at the sixth or ninth hour he returns, what is the condition of that sacred cause? Where the sacred name, and honor, and interests of Christ? Down-trodden, neglected, the taunt of the scorner, clothed in sackcloth and desolate. And where are those its trustees, defenders, champions, boasted friends? Many are gone off to the world as a better portion, so mingled with the multitude in the scramble of life that we can no longer identify them, only that long time ago they subscribed their names to the Lord. And where are the dying sinners for whom on the cross mercy was provided, and whom the Redeemer would fain that Christians should have led to him for salvation. Where are they? Some have gone to the grave. Others are now ready to perish in their sins. All are unconcerned because they see Christians unconcerned. Yet they are on their way to the bar of God, speeding with rapid flight to their eternal doom. Some, Christian brethren, are already beyond your influence; others will be soon. Such is the condition in which the Master on returning finds his neglected cause.
What dependence is to be placed on servants like these? And what must be the guilt of perfidy in circumstances like these? Verily, Christianity may exclaim in reference to many of its professed votaries, "deliver me from my friends."
It cannot be that any true Christian seriously considers what he is doing when a backslider. I cannot therefore suppose that this flagrant sin is wilfully committed. Were it so, farewell their prospect of heaven. They would merit and receive the deepest place in hell. Yet a heart bent to blacksliding is altogether false to Christ, unreliable, and guilty to the extent I have described. Would to God, my brethren and friends, that the Holy Spirit might set our sins in order before our minds, and that a conviction of personal guilt might lead us to repent and do our first works!
III. It remains for me to speak of the consequences of continuing in this guilty course. There are two rods in the hand of God for offenders, the rod of discipline and the rod of retribution. The former is to correct, with a view to reclaim the offender. The latter is to punish the incorrigible, with a view to vindicate
and maintain his outraged authority. With the rod of discipline, come oftentimes desolation, rebuke, discomfort, darkness and barrenness, in spiritual experience. Should these various bitter experiences sent to the soul, or the Church, by way of fatherly discipline, fail of recalling the backsliders--should they yet pursue the world, deaf to the voice of love, alluring them back to God-deaf also to the voice of his authority, and to that of his providence, loudly rebuking their perfidy, I can see but one alternative. According to the principles of the Bible they must perish as incorrigible, just as if they had never professed religion. To bear the name of a Christian, cannot carry with it the virtue to save a soul. Not the name but the thing, the vitality, the real essence is essential. Accordingly, I see not why, if admonition, promise, threatening and all disciplinary influences which the Saviour may employ, fail to recover those who are bent to backsliding, they must not suffer the full penalty of unrepented, unpardoned sin.
1. The first appliances, however, which God will use are disciplinary. And the first consequence to be apprehended by a backslider, whether an individual or a Church, is outward rebuke. How often has God crossed the path of a Christian's worldliness, or of a Church in its declension! What signal rebuke he has administered! With the individual how many times has he dried up the streams of idolized accumulation!-permitted his store, his workshop, his dwelling to be consumed with flames, his ships to be engulphed in the waves, his harvest fields to be blighted. How many times has affliction uttered God's rebuke! sickness, prolonged, it may be, and painful, in his person or family, has admonished him. And how many times has it proved, that nothing would avail till death took the first-born, and it was over the narrow grave of a loved one that the first tears of repentance fell, the first resolution to be entirely devoted to the Saviour was formed, and the first steps of the backslider's return taken.
In like manner has it been with churches in their general declension. Their candlestick has been removed out of its place. The fire of devotion has gone out on their altars. Israel of old illustrates this. The Seven Churches of Asia are seven illustrations, and so too many churches at the present day, which have a name to live, but are dead.
2. Another consequence, is the discomfort of the forsaken soul; its restless condition, the possibly deep gloom which may settle down like night upon it. It must be unhappy when are withdrawn, with a grieved departing Saviour, the sweet influences of his grace, as well as the joyful assurance of blessedness here
The power of faith to uplift the soul, and fortify it against numberless depressing influences, is certainly not one of the least of the blessings of Christianity. Its power to irradiate the future with the soft, calm light of Hope, and to blunt the thorns of our
pathway to the tomb--this is not one of the least of its blessings. It is not a blessing to be despised. It must not be thrown away. And yet whoever is bent to backsliding from God, throws it away. I may, on this point, appeal to your own consciousness. Leaving a Saviour, do you not, fellow Christian, also leave Christian enjoyment? Do you not leave the inspiring, buoyant influence of Hope? Even so. And what is the equivalent? Nay, rather let me ask what is the compensation? Alas, what is it? Darkness in the soul, and leanness, doubts, fears, compunction the goads of conscience. The soul is no longer like a watered garden, but is a dry and thirsty land, where no water is. The burdens of life become more oppressive, while yet there are no everlasting arms underneath.
You, whose experience may have taught you how evil a thing it is, and bitter, to depart from Christ, may well inquire
"Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?
What peaceful hours I then enjoyed!
But now I find an aching void
3. The last consequence which I have time to mention, relates to the future world. It takes hold of retribution. It is this, that unless you repent and do your first works, you must perish. There is no talismanic charm about the name of Christian, or about a profession of religion which can rescue the hopeless backslider. He must lie down like other sinners, under the wrath of God. Yes, beloved hearer, whoever among you are bent to backsliding from God, if you repent not, you cannot enter heaven. Think, then, of the possibility, after all, of your perishing-of the certainty of it, unless you repent. Nor is this all.
Connected with this consequence to yourselves, are melancholy consequences to the unconverted in your families, and in the community. How seldom a sinner repenteth, while the Church is far from God! How seldom !
What will then become of your impenitent children-of these beloved youth, these young men and young women, that love not the Lord Jesus Christ? What will become of these unconverted husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, who are not even thoughtful about their souls, and who will not be, until the backsliding of the Church is healed?
Indeed, it would seem that on the decision you make, relative to returning to God, hinges the salvation, not only of your own souls, but that of your dearest relatives and neighbors. It has well been said, that you are touching chords which will send their vibrations through eternity-holding, as it were, the heartstrings, not of the temporal life of one individual, but the immor
tality of many. Ponder this well. It will constitute, be assured, food of abundant reflection in another world.
And now, in closing, one word to my fellow sinners. In this discourse have been exhibited some of the marks by which to identify those who are bent to backsliding from God-the guilt of their condition and conduct, as also the consequences of it which prompt repentance can alone avert; consequences to themselves personally, to their families, to the churches composed of them, and indirectly to you, inasmuch as your future turns, to a great extent, upon the fidelity or perfidy of the Church.
Now, has it not occurred to you to ask what your character is in the sight of a holy God-what your guilt is, and what your future must be, unless you escape to the Lord Jesus Christ? If even Christian people fall into such guilt, so displease Jehovah, and bring wrath upon themselves, how must it be with you, who are not, like them, restrained by any attachment to the Saviour's person or cause, nor by any solemn vows of consecration, nor by any peculiar influences of guarding grace? What a burden of guilt is yours were God to lay it now open upon your dormant conscience? What a prospect too for eternity? If God has so much against professing Christians, for their worldliness, what must he have against you? And if they will scarcely be saved -nay, if some of them will be disappointed in the final day, where will you appear?
It is not indeed alleged against you that you are bent on backsliding. No. For you have never at all consecrated your hearts to God. But the allegation in your case is, that you permit your hearts to be full of evil, only evil, and that continually. Alas, how can you stand in the Judgment? Not having devoted to your Saviour the least confidence, or affection,-no gratitude, no cheerful service, having lived solely for yourselves, repelling every felt obligation, admitting practically no allegiance to heaven, how can you endure to fall into the hands of an angry God?
Consider well this solemn inquiry, "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" Yes; if the Redeemer, if holy angels, and their own consciences too, condemn Christians for withholding a portion only of their hearts from Christ, where will you appear who are altogether devoted to self and sin?