by The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY
TEXT.--"The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways."--Proverbs xiv. 14.
In remarking on this text I shall inquire,
I. Who are backsliders?
II. Mentions some of t he causes of backsliding. And
III. Some of the consequences of backsliding.
I. Who are backsliders?
1. The term backslide means to go back from a point. In its widest signification when applied to religion, it may mean the declension of any class of persons who profess religion, whether they possess it or not. If they have professed religion, and have at any time conformed their lives to its rules so far as to appear to be religious, and if they then go back from even the appearance of religion, they are called backsliders, although their profession may have been a mere form. So it is equally customary to call them backsliders, whether they apostatize wholly from all religion, or change to another religion. In this sense it is often used under the Old Testament dispensation. God's people used to be spoken of as backsliders, when they went off to idolatry, as well as when they grew lax and unprincipled in the duties of religion. In the sense in which I use the term to-night, I mean by a backslider to denote a person who is truly converted and is a Christian, but has left his first love. His zeal has grown cold. The ardor of his feelings and the depth of his piety are abated. Such a person is a "backslider in heart." He may keep up all the forms of religion, attend to worship, public and private, and read his Bible, and go through all these exercises regularly, but the spirit of it is gone--al[and] the fine edge of pious feelings is blunted. He is a backslider in heart. Probably this applies to some of you who hear me to-night. God knows whether it does or not. Your own consciences will tell you, if you will let them speak. Have you less ardor of feeling, less fixedness of purpose, less faithfulness in duty? If you have, then I mean you. God means you. He calls you backslider. That is your name--you, elder in the church; or you minister, if there be any such here; you woman--no matter what is your standing in the church, if that is the description of your character, then you are a backslider. And so you stand entered on the book of God.
2. The backslider is any one who was once converted, but who does not enjoy secret prayer, and hold daily communion with God. A man may keep up the form of prayer, he may be on his knees a great deal, and yet have no communion with God--not feel that God is present with him. He may pray ever so much, in form, and yet have no spirit of prayer. If in your secret prayer you do not actually draw near to God, you are either a backslider in heart or a hypocrite. No matter to what church you belong, or what office you hold, or what character you may bear in the sight of men; God regards you as a backslider, if you do not enjoy the spirit of prayer.
3. If you do not enjoy the word of God, you are a backslider in heart. If you do not habitually form your practical views from it, you are a backslider. If you do not delight in the Bible more than in any other book, if you find you can relish reading any commentary as well as you do the naked text itself, you have begun to backslide. I do not hesitate to say, that the man who finds he can relish the best commentary that ever was written, as well as he does the simple word of God, has begun to backslide. If he has gone still farther, and thinks he has read the Bible about enough, and that now he will take up other things and study, he is far gone. TAKE CARE, professor! If you find that when you read a chapter it is dark and uninteresting, your name before God is Backslider.
4. If you are worldly minded, you are a backslider. If you find the things of the world are uppermost in your mind, and occupy your first thoughts in the morning, or press spontaneously upon your attention as soon as your are alone, if your associations and thoughts and feelings are earthly, you are a backslider in heart.
5. If you do not feel your heart drawn out in painful anxiety and prayer in view of the state of the church, it is because you are a backslider. If you can look at the state of the churches in this city without pain, and grief of heart, and deep anxiety, you must be a backslider in heart.
6. If you are insensible how low the state of religion is, you are a backslider. Many people, when they see congregations as large as usual, and when there are no dissensions among them, will say, "There is a very pleasant state of things among that people; it is a very prosperous parish; how quiet and peaceful every thing is there; it is delightful." And all this, notwithstanding there may be no conversions there, no souls saved. A person who can call that a pleasant and prosperous state for a congregation, must be either a backslider or a hypocrite. If he was not, he would never rest in such a state of things, he would never be satisfied until he knew that sinners were turning from their sins. The man that can rest satisfied with any thing short of this, must have, to say the least, but a very superficial piety.
7. When the wickedness of sinners does not distress and grieve you, it is a sign of backsliding. If any one can hear sinners profane the name of god, and see them break the Sabbath, or do other abominations, and not groan and sigh and pray and grieve for them, he must be a backslider. How little you feel like the Psalmist, when he says in regard to the wicked, "Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not they law." "Horror hath taken hold upon me, because of the wicked, that forsake thy law." "I beheld the transgressors and was grieved, because they kept not they word." So does every Christian, who is not a backslider, grieve at the transgressions of the wicked.
8. A person may be known as a backslider, when his secret prayers are short, and far between. Persons who enjoy prayer, pray very frequently. If you pray but seldom, of if you do not pray as often as you eat, or do not spend much time in communion with god as you do in gratifying your appetite, it is a sign you have backslidden. You did not do so when you enjoyed your first love. Then you had rather pray than eat. Your feeling was, that if you must cut short one, you would say, Let the body fast, but my soul must be fed. It is to be feared that very many in the church do not pray as much as they eat. They are not so frequent, nor so regular, and do not spend as much time. Let them take care. Depend upon it, if they do so, their table will prove a snare and a trap to them. He is a glutton, or worse, who spends more time in eating, than h spends with God in prayer.
9. When you can perform secret prayer in a slight manner. If a person can go to his closet end[and] pray slightly, without any honest fervency of soul before God, or any wrestling with God for a blessing, it is proof that he is a backslider.
10. When you suffer trifling excuses to prevent your praying, either in secret, or in public. Point me to a man who absents himself from his closet for trifling reasons, or who is kept from the house of God by frivolous excuses, that man's name is backslider. If not, he would make eating and every thing else give way to his regular hours of devotion; and the reason would be, that he enjoyed more in prayer and the word of God, than in his daily food. Job says, "I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food." If you find that a slight indisposition or inconvenience will keep you from the house of God, and lead you to set aside private duties, you are a backslider.
Perhaps I ought here to ask each one of you who hear me to-night, whether this is your case. Have I mentioned facts that apply to you, and that you know refer to you? Beloved, do any of you do these things? If you do, let the truth reach your hearts. Do not apply it to your neighbor, do not give it away, but take it home to yourself. You need it, it will do you good, if you will let it. If these things belong to you, just be honest with yourself, and write your name "Backslider," and act accordingly.
II. I am to mention some of the principal causes of backsliding.
1. Ill will towards any person. If ill will is harbored towards any being that God has made, you cannot continue to enjoy the presence of god. No matter how wicked that being may be, or how worthless, if you hate that being, you are the same as a murderer in the sight of God, and the spirit of God cannot dwell with you. You must be a backslider. Sometimes persons who are perhaps really injured, will let it fester in their minds, and rankle there, till it eats out all their piety. You cannot pray, when you have any ill will towards any. I defy you to pray with such a spirit in you. God will not hear your prayer. If you think you pray, you are deceived. You cannot have the spirit of prayer, nor hold communion with God, in such a state. "When ye stand praying, FORGIVE, if ye have aught against any, that your Father, also, which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses."
2. Another fruitful source of backsliding is having too much worldly business. If you have so much worldly business as to absorb your thoughts, and take up too much of your time, you will backslide. You ought not to have so much business that you cannot pray. And you need not. God does not require it. He does not wish his clerks to have so much work to do that they cannot get time to confer with him, to tell him, their situation and progress, and ask his direction. If you accumulate so much business that you cannot attend on God, it is evident that you have no right views of business. If you really considered it as God's business, you would not think that this was the best way to please and honor God, to plunge into such a mass of worldly business that you cannot pray nor read your Bible. Business is a duty. I have always inculcated this, as you know, that it is a duty which God requires, to be busy, always usefully employed in some way. But to get into business that will encroach upon secret prayer and eat out religion, is all wrong. God never requires it. Men are God's stewards, and He never employs them so that they cannot have time to commune with him. And if they run themselves into such a press of worldly business and cares, it is a sure sign that they have set up to do business for themselves, and not for God, and are now hastening to be rich. Otherwise they would never think of doing so, for they would have no motive. Love to God never shows itself in that way. And he who sets up business on his own account will surely backslide.
3. Another frequent cause of backsliding is being associated in business with an unconverted partner. Whoever forms such a connection after he is converted, will infallibly taper off his religion, his piety will decay, and he will backslide.--The reason is obvious. The unconverted man never pursues his business on Christian principles. He has not the beginning of such a principle. And therefore the business of the concern can never be conducted on such principles as God requires. And if you consent to have it conducted on any other principles, you are ruined. You will backslide, and your religion is ruined. God requires that business to be carried on for his glory, and if you do not have your business conducted in this way, you will backslide. I could mention a multitude of facts here, some of which you are acquainted with, where Christians have formed business connections with the unconverted and have been greatly injured, and often injured not only in their piety but their reputation also. I do not mean to say, that unconverted men are not honest, in the sight of men, and so far as men are concerned. But they are not honest in the sight of God, unless they do business for him. God requires them to carry on their business for his glory, and to be as faithful in it as if God was standing by, overlooking and directing it. Now where you find a man doing this you have found an excellent Christian. But if you associate yourself with one who will do nothing of the kind, you do in fact go with him and adopt his principles. And then you will backslide. I do not believe an instance to the contrary can be found, of a Christian who has taken a worldly partner, and has continued to enjoy religion. You must either offend your partner or offend God. You offend God at first by placing yourself in these circumstances. And no doubt you will continue to do so.
4. The influence of worldly companions, is a common cause of backsliding. When a person is converted, if he continues to associate as before with unconverted companions, he will backslide.
5. Taking a worldly partner for life is a cause of backsliding. In fact it is proof that the individual is already a backslider. Before a Christian can give the heart to one who is not the friend of God, there must certainly be a departure from first love, which may be expected to grow worse till God give him up to be filled with his own ways.
6. The fear of giving offence to worldly friends by being strictly religious, often produces backsliding. If you are so much afraid of hurting the feelings of your friends, that you will let them abuse God in your presence without reproof, you will soon be a backslider. Some will even go so far as to abuse God themselves, or break his laws for fear of giving offence, or for the sake of being civil to their ungodly companions.
7. When you begin to neglect or slightly perform the duty of secret prayer, you are on the brink of backsliding. I have mentioned this as one of the evidences of backsliding. It is also a cause. Backsliding often takes its rise here. I will mention the case of Mr. Oliphant of Auburn, whose memoir is recently published, by the title of "OLIPHANT'S REMAINS." It is to be found at the bookstores, and I would you would all read it, for you will find it to contain much that is useful. He was an excellent man, I knew him well. In the "Remains" you will find a letter which he wrote to his son, giving an account of his own backsliding. He says:
"I think I enjoyed religion for two years, or two and a half years, after my marriage. It then became evident, that I had lost nearly all sweet enjoyment of God. I had greatly relaxed in secret prayer--was of my guard, and began to fall an easy prey to sin. I began to associate with vain companions, and, of course, did not reverence the Sabbath, as I had formerly done. The cares of the world loaded me down, and I sought comfort in that which I knew was offensive to God. My conscience often smote me; but I still retained the form of prayer, with my wife and children. My spiritual father, Mr. Thomas Wills, died--I did not love his successor at Silver street--I became a rambler, on the Sabbath--and having 'itching ears,' I became fond of a variety of preaching; and sought it to my hurt. I injured my wife and children, by my example, and became involved in the fashion and pleasures of the world. I could distinctly perceive how greatly I had forsaken my own mercy; but was so entangled that I had no heart to turn."
Here you see the starting point was a want of honest fervency in secret prayer. So it is often. Persons begin to pray shorter, and with less fervency and frequency, and then, the less they pray the less they desire to pray, and they still grow shorter and less frequent. The shorter the prayer, the shorter the next is like to be, until perhaps he get where he can hardly be reclaimed. The way is to resist the beginnings. Take the alarm at the very outset. Just as soon as you see an this way, shut down the gate and stop there, or your name will soon be Backslider.
8. Neglecting the Bible is another precursor of backsliding. This also is not only an evidence but a cause of backsliding. No individual, who has a Bible, can enjoy religion unless he reads it. And if he reads his Bible carelessly, he will backslide. It is amazing to see how little they read the bible, and how little real confidence they have in the Bible, how little they care about knowing its contents, and how little they believe in it as the word of God.
9. A want of strict honesty is another prevailing cause of backsliding. A want of strict honesty will assuredly undermine all your religion. If you allow yourself to over-reach a little in business, or to take advantage of others in any way, you will backslide. You must not indulge the least degree of dishonesty. Unless you are as honest as if you had but another day to live, you cannot maintain your ground in religion. Almost all professors of religion in great cities do backslide. It is very seldom that you find any of the spirit of prayer in this city. I mean as I say, exactly. There are multitudes who are called praying people, and very good people too, but let any one talk to them about prayer, as the Bible talks on this subject, and they will not understand it: they will ask a thousand unmeaning questions, which they never would think of asking if they knew any-thing of the subject by experience. On this subject no man is right in theory, who has no experience. And the reason why there is so little of the purest kind of piety in New York is, that so large a proportion of the church, almost every one, indulge in some kind of dishonesty, which eats out of their religion. They do little things which are not purely honest. I know they pretend not to call them dishonest. They say every body understands it, and so on. But it is dishonest. And, furthermore, every body does not understand it. If every body did understand it, they would not do it. There would be no temptation to do it. Thus when a man asks a certain price for his goods, and afterwards takes less, showing that it was worth less to him, he will tell you he did not expect any body would take it at the first price. But, let me ask him, if any body should offer you the price you asked, would you not take it? If any body should suppose you were an honest man, who would not ask more for a thing than it was worth, would you take it, or would you tell him plainly that you intended to cheat him by getting an extra price for the article, if you found him ignorant or careless enough to be taken in? Or would you say, I will take less, I only asked more because I expected to be beaten down in the price; and would you, if what you at first asked, was offered, put the article down to its real value?
I have been amazed at my own experience among professors of religion. Why, I hardly dare offer a man what he asks for a thing, for fear he is asking more than it is worth, and I hate to offer less for fear of appearing to desire to get the article for less than the real value, and because I refused to banter, I have found, that for some things, I have given about double their value. They may say, it is generally understood. Suppose it is. Suppose it was generally understood that professors of religion would get drunk, or swear, or go to brothels, would that make it any better? Would that sanctify such things? But the purchaser, is often as much in fault, as the vender. Here is a customer comes in, and asks the lowest price of an article, and when told, he says, I will not give you that, but offers you less. Now, although you offered it at the lowest price, at which you could well afford to sell it, rather than lose his custom, you let him have it, at his own price. In this case, he sins by tempting you, if he knows the value of the article, and you sin in letting him have it in that way, for you tempt him to banter and serve you so again.
If you think you can practice a little dishonesty, and yet continue to enjoy the presence of God, you deceive yourselves. Any one who begins to do those things is either an arrant hypocrite, or he will backslide. The churches in this city never can enjoy religion steadily, they never can take hold of the work strongly, they never can know the power of prayer, until there is a reformation on this subject. Professors of religion must have conscience enough to be honest, and faith enough to believe in a judgment to come, and to believe that God listens to every bargain and every lie they tell behind the counter. You never can have much religion in New York, until you mend your ways. Go into that store, and hear a professor of religion bantering about a price, lowering down, and lowering down, because he has a sharp customer to deal with. I set that man down as a backslider. He is not honest. He is not doing business for God. He is not dealing like a steward. Do you suppose he is trying to make a good bargain for God. I tell you he is not speculating for God, but for himself. God does not need him to cheat on his account. All such persons will be filled with their own ways.
10. Covetousness is a fruitful cause of backsliding. Covetousness is idolatry. Withholding more than is meet, not only tendeth to poverty in outward things, but it produces spiritual leanness and poverty. Nothing has such a tendency to deaden religion. Such professors are always the most difficult to wake up, or to keep awake. Show me a man who holds the world with a close grasp, and you need not expect he will ever do much in religion. Sometimes you find a minister that loves money. He is good for nothing. He never will be of any use, as a minister, till he gives up that passion. Is he an elder in the church? Appoint no such man to the eldership. You might as well appoint the devil and elder, as a covetous man. He will only do hurt, he will hold the church back from all advancement. If you have any such elders, my counsel is, that you get rid of them as soon as you can. They are backsliders, and will always stand in the way. God expressly forbids having men for deacons who are "greedy of filthy lucre," and no church will prosper that tolerates such officers.
11. Another frequent cause of backsliding is the want of perfect truth and sincerity in conversation. People do not exactly call it lying, but yet it is so much like it that I know now what else to call it. A man cannot have a conscience void of offence, who is in the habit of exaggeration, coloring and reaching after the marvellous in his stories. He will backslide. They only way to avoid it, is to tell always the naked, simple truth, just as carefully as if you was under oath, or as if you believed that God was listening to every word you say. Let your conversation be Yea, Yea, and Nay, Nay; for whatsoever is more than these, cometh of evil.
12. Tale-bearing. Show me a man or a woman, that loves to hear a secret and tell it, and I will show one who is already a backslider, and who will grow worse and worse, unless he repents. Any person that is always eager to tell the first news, will live and die a backslider, unless there is a reformation in this respect.
13. Levity. This is so obviously a cause of backsliding, that I need not dwell upon it.
14. An intemperate way of living causes a great deal of backsliding. I do not refer merely to the use of intoxicating liquor, but to every excess or intemperance in eating and drinking. I do not mean sitting at the table after dinner and drinking glass after glass of wine, till highly excited. Any one who will do this is too openly a backslider, to require remark. But I speak of those individuals who eat so much as to take off the edge of their feelings, and stupify their minds, so that they are not as bright and active after eating as before. He who allows himself to do this will certainly backslide. Show me a man who sits at his table and eats till he is more inclined to sleep than pray, and there is one who is beginning to be a glutton already. He cannot maintain himself in religion. Even if the articles of food are proper in themselves, it is impossible a man should indulge in such excess, and keep from backsliding. He is intemperate, God looks upon him so.
III. I proceed to mention some of the consequences of backsliding.
1. Backsliders become the most unhappy people in the world.
There are many who have known what it was to enjoy God, but now they neither enjoy God nor the world. They are away from home every where. They are unhappy when they rise up and when they lie down. They are like a bird that has no rest. They have too much religion to enjoy the world, and too much of the world to enjoy God. You who are in this state, know that this is true. You are filled with your own ways.
2. They are the most guilty people on earth.
(1.) Their temper will be bad. Such persons are always full of complaining and out of humor. They are a stumbling block to sinners all around them. If it is a merchant, he is a stumbling block to his clerks. If it is a woman, she is a stumbling block to her servants.
(2.) They are more guilty, because they have a clearer knowledge of duty. Responsibility increases with a knowledge of duty, as every one knows, and as backsliders have had more light, they have of course more guilt.
(3.) They sin against peculiar obligations. They know what it is to feel the delight of pardoned sin. They have known what it was to feel the love of God shed abroad in the heart. If such a man backslides, his built is infinitely great.
(4.) They are covenant breakers, and are the more guilty on that account. They are not only under their responsibility to God's law, but they are perjured. To profess religion, and receive the sacraments, is to take an oath of allegiance to God. To backslide, is to break this oath, and in the eye of God, is perjury.
(5.) They bring up an evil report against religion itself.--By going after the world, its amusements, or its honors, or its riches, they say to sinners, "We have tried religion, and we have found out that you were right all the time; for religion will not answer by itself, and now we are coming back to enjoy the world again; we must have the world to make us happy." Thus, they are traitors to the cause of Christ. Who shall measure the guilt of such a course?
3. Backsliders render themselves the most despicable of all people.
Both sides condemn a backslider, and both despise him. And they have good reason for it, for he is a deserter from both. He first deserted from the world to join the church, and then he went back and tried to joint the world again. Who can trust such a character? Who can help despising him. The ungodly despise him, he never can receive his former standing among them. The church distrust him and set him aside as a broken reed.
I know that the ungodly will sometimes praise a backsliding professor. They puff him up, and say, "We like such a Christian as that; he is consistent, he is charitable, he is a liberal man, such a Christian, is what we like." But they are not sincere in this. Let a man be as bad as the devil, if he is sick, which will he send for to come and pray with him, one of those backsliders, or a consistent Christian? Mark that man who puffs up the backsliders, and at another time you will hear him call them all hypocrites, and at another time you will hear him call them all hypocrites, and laugh at them; "Pretty Christians these, they love the world as well as I do!" Whatever they may say, when it suits their turn, it is plain they do not respect backsliders. You are greatly deceived if you think you will get the good graces of the world by conformity to their ways. You are despised, and must be. It is not in the nature of man to respect such conduct.
4. They are the most inconsistent people in the world.
They adhere consistently to neither party. Their theory contradicts their practice, and their practice contradicts their theory. They pretend to believe in their hearts, what they notoriously contradict by their lives.
5. They are the most difficult to please.
No class of people make so much trouble for a minister. If he preaches so as to commend himself to their consciences, he hurts their feelings, and they oppose him. If he preaches so as to satisfy their feelings, then their consciences condemns him, and they have no confidence in his honesty. You come down to their standard and they know you are wrong. There is no such thing as pleasing them by preaching. If you crowd the truth home to them, they will grumble, and call it harsh and personal. If you do not preach so as to cut them to the quick, they know that it is wrong, and they will say, "That will never do, we shall never get awake by such preaching as this, the minister is as much asleep as we are, and we never can get along so." Thus they will always feel uneasy, let the preaching be as it may. If the preacher temporizes for the sake of pleasing, they will have no hearty confidence in him. They may pretend to be pleased, and may praise him, and tell what a great preacher he is, and what an agreeable man, may extol him to the clouds for a scholar and an orator. But they are not satisfied in conscience, for they know there cannot be any reasonable expectation of getting any good to themselves, or having a revival, under such preaching. They know that the minister ought to preach differently, and they feel that he must preach differently, or they must get a different minister, or there never will be a revival. A minister ought not to conciliate the feelings of professors who are in a backslidden state, by any compromise, but he ought to tear open their hearts, and pour in the burning truth, till he can drive them out from their bed of slumber and death.
5. Very often, backsliders are the most hardened people to be found. They are so used to the gospel and all its motives, that they cease to be moved by it. You may hold up the most solemn and piercing truth, you may roll a world of responsibility upon their consciences, and they do not feel. And after a while, the more you use the means to arouse them, the more they will be hardened, until it seems impossible to move them.
6. They are the most loathsome people in the world. Christ uses language in regard to backsliders, in his epistle to the church at Laodicea, which fully expresses this. "I would thou wert either cold or hot. So then, because thou art neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth." God seems to loathe them, he cannot endure them, and threatens to spew them out as a most loathsome thing. Backslider! How can you attempt to go near to god, when he feels so? Perhaps I am speaking to some here, who know that you are backsliders. You know that if you go before God he will loathe you and spew you out, he cannot bear you.
7. They are most injurious to the cause of religion. A backslider does more hurt to the cause than an infidel. He does more to prejudice the world against religion, more to prevent the conversion of sinners, more to favor the designs of the devil, than any other person in the world.
8. Backsliders are the most hypocritical of all people. They serve neither God nor the devil, sincerely. They have forsaken the devil, so that they no longer serve him with singleness of heart, and have given themselves to God, but now they do not serve him. They are hypocrites on both sides. Neither god nor the devil can trust them.
9. When an individual backslides, if he continues in that way without reformation, sooner or later the very same thing will come upon him which he dreaded, and which was the occasion of his backsliding. Suppose it was a regard to reputation that made him backslide. He is a politician, perhaps, and he became a backslider in heart, because he wanted to get some office. By and by you will see that man put down in politics, and lose his office, and so the very thing comes upon him that he was eager to avoid. God will order it, somehow or other, so as to bring the very curse upon him that he dreaded, and he is filled with his own ways. Instead of being lifted up and kept up, as he expected, God has lifted him up to let him fall, and make his fall more signal.
Suppose the individual desires to be rich, and in the pursuit of riches backslides from God. As certain as he is a Christian, God will blast his riches. God values his soul a great deal more than his wealth, and HE will not hesitate to burn up all that property, if there is no better way to deliver him from it.
If he has backslidden through fear of getting the ill will of his friends, or through fear of persecution, very likely he will in some other way lose the good will of those very persons. Most marvelous instances could be pointed, if I had time where backsliders have thus been filled with their own ways. Their course has resulted in the entire loss of those very objects which they prized more than the favor of God, and in the suffering of those very evils which they dreaded more than his frown and curse.
10. If you continue in your backslidden state, you may expect that by and by God will let you fall into some iniquity or some disgrace, that will be a source of vexation and trial to you as long as you live. I have known men who have backslidden to get rich, and they have got into debt and failed, and gone down to their graves loaded with anxiety and reproach. I knew a man, perhaps he is now living, who to gratify an ungodly and ambitious son, entered upon a course of speculation and became a bankrupt, and got into such a sea of trouble and toil as will harass him to the day of his death. He used to give liberally t missions, and every good cause, but now he can hardly give a shilling at the monthly concert, because he feels that he owes it, and perhaps it is wronging his creditors. All this is simply being filled with his own ways.
Sometimes, when backsliding is occasioned by an idolatrous attachment to a wife or a child, God takes away the desire of their eyes at a stroke. All this is because God is faithful. He sees one of his children leaning on an idol, and he puts forth his hand and withers away the idol in an instant, rather than let a child of his live and die in sin, and go to hell.
1. There is no way for young converts to keep from being backsliders, but by guarding against the beginning of decline.
Backsliding comes on very much like intemperance, gradually, from the smallest beginnings, in a way that is overlooked. No man ever commenced the career of becoming a drunkard with his eyes open, intending to do it. He first, perhaps, takes a glass on some public day. By and by he begins to keep it in his house to treat his friends, or to take it with bitters, or as a medicine. Next he takes a few drops with his dinner, to help digestion. And so he goes on, without suspecting his danger, till he is a drunkard before he is aware. Nine-tenths of those who become drunkards, are led on from small beginnings, in some such way as this. In much the same way, persons become backsliders by little and little. They do not intend to backslide, but they take the first step without knowing where it will lead, and then they more easily take the second, and so on. The only security is in adopting the principle of TOTAL ABSTINENCE FROM SIN. Avoid those little things, as they call them, which lead the way. If they begin to allow themselves in some such "little thing" they are gone. They may continue to keep up the show of godliness, but it will be without the power, and they overlook the fact, that they have become loathsome backsliders in the sight of God. See that woman. If you could listen at the door of her closet, you would be convinced at once that she is not half in earnest. She keeps up the form of secret prayer very strictly, but there is no heart in it. Prays in secret? She mocks god in secret! She is a backslider.
2. You see the duty of church members to watch over young converts in love, and put them on their guard against the beginnings of backsliding. They should watch them, just as a mother watches her little child, to see that it does not go near where it will fall. Look out for them, and if you see them verging near the lines, warn them, "Beware! go not near that brink--hell is there." Ask them, early and frequently, "Do you pray now as frequently and fervently as you did? Do you love the Bible as much as you did?" And keep them on the guard, and thus prevent them from backsliding.
3. There is great reason to praise God for all that he does with his people when they backslide.
He follows them with stripes, till they return. He says, "If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments, then will I visit their transgressions with a rod, and their iniquity with stripes; nevertheless, my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail."
4. If any of you are in a backslidden state, or if you are a professor of religion and have these marks, and if God does not chastise you, and if you are still prosperous, you have reason to fear that you are given up of God. You have great reason to fear that you never were a child of God, and never knew the love of God, but you are a hypocrite on the way to hell. How long have you been in this state? How long is it since you left what you call your first love? If it is long, and you are not yet chastised, you have reason to believe it is because you are a hypocrite. God is faithful, and he will chastise his children when they backslide. He has promised to do it, and he will not fail.
Or does God chastise you? If so, repent, before he chastises you any more. Do not wait for him to chastise you to death, or till he lets you fall into the snares of the devil, and into some grievous sin that shall disgrace and torment you as long as you live. Come back, O Backslider, come back to God. Seek his face, renounce your sin, and he will heal your backslidings, and forgive your transgressions, and bless your soul.
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