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scripture-Let him who thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. It seems inevitable to conclude, that there must have been a great weakening of religious principle, and of spiritual feeling, before such things would have been assented to and done. Nature is opposed to sudden transitions. The
the day and the night, do
And it is by slow degrees
winter and the summer, not come or go at once. that the leaves of the forest put forth their verdure, and then decay. In the kingdom of grace it is the same. When we see men suddenly destroy their character by some unexpected and disgraceful act, we seem obliged to suppose, that the fatal deed has been preceded by much that tended to such a result. The silent working of deterioration must surely have been perceptible to the individual, long before the effect rose thus to the surface, and became visible.
But now it generally is, if not before, that the backslider becomes painfully alive to his guilt and peril, and begins to return. The truth of the kingdom is still in his heart, and it has now to renew its work of penitence, and regeneration. The gold has been almost concealed and lost beneath the grosser material in cohesion with it, but still it is there; and the season has come in which to separate and purify it, and to save the spirit as by fire.
II. But whatever be the means employed to induce the backslider to return, it is to be observed
with regard to the christian warfare as connected with it, that it consists, in brief, of A RENEWAL OF
THAT STATE INTO WHICH WE ARE BROUGHT WHEN WE
FIRST BECOME PENITENTS. It is, however, a renewal of penitent feeling under circumstances which may well produce a deeper humiliation and more pungent sorrow. It not only includes repentance, but repentance rendered more contrite by the fact, that the sins to which it refers have been committed against that light which is derived solely from the experience connected with a reception of the truth. It is sin partaking of the greatest evil, as being committed against the largest manifestation of mercy. Hence David speaks of its power to inflict suffering, as a breaking of the bones. Mark his words:-Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy
Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
When the Redeemer said, Woe unto thee, Chorazin; woe unto thee, Bethsaida, he meant to teach, that in proportion to the evidence with which the truth and mercy of God are commended to us, must be the guilt of our remaining unaffected by them. And, it is obvious, that the sins of the backslider, from their being committed not only against the evidences of truth and mercy from without, but against the confirmation of those evidences in the blessings conferred upon his spirit, must carry this surpassing guilt along with them. He has tasted of the heavenly gift, felt the powers of the world to come, urged the promises in prayer, and rejoiced in hope of the glory of God: nevertheless, he has turned again unto folly, as though in contempt of the most sacred obligations, of the most solemn vows!
Surely it is not surprising if the return of such an offender should be the occasion of a conflict more protracted, and painful, than was connected with his first repentance. We may doubt whether the heart of Peter was ever the seat of so deep a sorrow, as in those moments when, in the affecting language of scripture, he went out and wept bitterly. Nor does it seem at all questionable, that the heaviest weight of grief ever experienced by David, was that under which he laboured when composing
the fifty-first Psalm. It was when Ephraim prayed, Turn thou me, and I shall be turned, for thou art the Lord my God, that he bemoaned himself, smote upon his thigh, was confounded, and drank indeed of the cup of sorrow. Nor was it until then that a voice was heard, saying, Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him I do earnestly remember him still. Nor should we here be unmindful of Manasseh, a transgressor who broke through all the restraints of a religious education, and became a proverb in crime. In the dungeon to which his sins conducted him, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers; and it was not until his signal wickedness had been followed thus, by affliction and penitence somewhat proportioned to it, that God was entreated of him, and heard his supplication.
These examples shew, that there is no degree of religious declension to which the mercy of God may not extend; but they, at the same time, shew the truth of that scripture-If my people walk not in my ways, I will visit their transgressions with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Sometimes this scripture is fulfilled in allowing the delinquent to fall into unexpected transgression; sometimes by exposing him to much worldly trial and adversity, sometimes by a silent impression upon the conscience, which for a season, perhaps a long one, renders it impossible that the mind should yield itself to forbidden pleasure, and, at
the same time, leaves it in a state of estrangement from the pleasures of religion.`
But, however produced, whether by a more sudden or a more gradual process, the chief difficulty connected with the backslider's return is to obtain A RENEWED CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE DIVINE FAVOUR.
The more a man has injured his friend, the more difficult must he find it to believe that the injured party is still his friend. Oh! what would not the sinner sometimes barter, to be freed from the dark forecastings of this kind which come between him and his Maker?
The main EFFECT of the divine goodness in healing the backslidings of men, is their stronger feeling of dependance on the divine arm for support and happiness; and their walking, as a consequence, with more humility, and gratitude, and devotedness. The deeper, and the more extended, we feel our necessities to be, the more must we look beyond ourselves, and the more must we admire the generous love which, nevertheless, is found to have supplied them all.
There is a word of admonition that should be connected with the topic reviewed in this chapter. LET THE IRRELIGIOUS MAN BEWARE OF DEDUCING CONSEQUENCES FROM THE FAULTS OF PROFESSORS, THAT
MAY PROVE RUINOUS TO HIS OWN SOUL. Among men there is no cause so good as not to have its apostates; indeed, the better the cause, the more probable, in this bad world, is the occurrence of