Matthew 8:23-34 - "And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to [him], and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him! And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time? And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters. And they that kept them fled, and went their ways into the city, and told every thing, and what was befallen to the possessed of the devils. And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought [him] that he would depart out of their coasts."
If we were but sensible of the great necessity there is, in this our day, of being real Christians, sure we should not be contented with being nominal ones; but we are sunk into I know not what; we are no better than baptized heathen. And how amazing is it, that we should profess the name of Christ, and yet so little converse about him; surely, this name whereby we are called, should be the theme of our discourse here, and of our eternal Hallelujahs in a world to come. But is it not more amazing, to consider, that instead of the name of Jesus, whereby we are to have salvation, we are taught to look for it in ourselves, and that there must be a fitness in us before God bestows his grace and favor upon us. But what doctrine is this? Not the doctrine of the scripture, not the doctrine of Jesus, not that of the primitive Christians, not that of the reformation, nor that of the articles of the church of England. No, it is the doctrine of the devil; this is making Christ but half a Savior, and driving man into an error of the greatest consequence, in making him go to Jesus in his own strength, and not in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. But, my brethren, unless you go in the strength of Jesus Christ; unless you depend only upon him for salvation; unless he is your wisdom, righteousness and sanctification, he will never be your redemption. Our salvation is the free gift of God; it is owing to his free love, and the free grace of Jesus Christ, that ever you are saved.
Do not flatter yourselves of being good enough, because you are morally so; because you go to church, say the prayers, and take the sacrament, therefore you think no more is required; alas, you are deceiving your own souls; and if God, in his free grace and mercy, does not show you your error, it will only be leading you a softer way to your eternal ruin; but God forbid that any of you, to whom I am now speaking, should imagine this; no, you must be abased, and God must be exalted, or you will never begin at the right end, you will never see Jesus with comfort or satisfaction, unless you go to him only on the account of what he has done and suffered.
Is it not plain to a demonstration, that we are acting the part of the Gergesenes, who came and desired Jesus to depart from them? Let us consider the words, and then we shall see how exactly we are performing the part of these men over again.
And when he was entered into a ship his disciples followed him.
Christ had been working of many miracles, as we may read a few verses before; and as he continually went about doing good, so now he was going to the country of the Gergesenes to dispossess two, who were possessed with devils; and his disciples followed him; No doubt they were reproached and pointed at, for following such a babbler, as the Scribes and Pharisees esteemed the Lord Jesus Christ. Doubtless they were pointed at, jeered, scoffed, and esteemed madmen, enthusiasts, and a parcel of rabble; but still they followed the Lord Jesus Christ, they did not mind a little reproach; no, they loved their Master too well to forbear following him for the sake of a little persecution. And if you do but love the Lord Jesus Christ, love him above all, you will follow him in spite of the malice of all the Scribes and Pharisees of this generation.
And behold there arose a great tempest on the sea.
The presence of Christ in the ship, did not preserve the disciples from fears and troubles; they were filled with uneasiness, although Christ was with them: this was only for a trial of their faith, to see if they would stand fast for the Lord in a persecuting time. My dear brethren, if the Lord is trying of you, do not give out; no, stand fast in all that the Lord may call you to suffer: It is easy to follow Christ when all things are safe: but your love to Jesus Christ would be seen more, if you must lose your lives, or deny your Jesus; it would be a trial of your love, when fire and faggot was before you, if you would rush into that, rather than flie from the truth as it is in Jesus. Though all things are calm now, the storm is gathering, and by and by it will break; it is at present no bigger than a man's hand; but when it is full it will break, and then you will see whether you are found Christians or not. Persecution would scatter the hypocrites, and make nominal Christians afraid to worship God; they would then soon turn unto the world and the things of it.
And his disciples came to [him], and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!
Here we may see the great compassion of the Lord Jesus Christ; no sooner had the disciples awakened him, and he saw their danger, but he rebuked the winds and seas, and all things were calm. Thus it was in a natural way, and will be so in a spiritual one; for no sooner does Jesus Christ speak peace to a troubled soul, but all is calm and quiet. Now none but God could have performed this great miracle, and therefore it is no wonder that his disciples and the men of the ship were amazed to see the wonders he performed; and they could not forbear to express their sense thereof, by inquiring, "What manner of man is this!"
And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?
Two men, who were possessed bodily with that evil one who is going about seeking whom he may devour, met Jesus; as soon as they saw him they were afraid, and cried out: though they made every one afraid of them, yet they no sooner saw Christ, but their power left them, and they cried out, "What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God?" We know that thou are God; we do not want thee, we have no power over thee, but thou hast over us, and we fear thou art come to torment us before our time; we know that we are to be brought to judgment, and therefore we would not be tormented until that time come.
And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.
The evil spirits were sensible that Christ was come to dispossess them, and that their time was now come, when they must leave the bodies of these two men; for when Christ comes, who is stronger than the strong man armed, all must fall before him; they could not stand against the power of Christ. And here we may observe, that though the devil is an enemy, yet he is a chained one; he cannot hurt a poor swine until he has power given him from above: and we may likewise see the malice of the devil, that he would hurt a poor swine rather than do no mischief; and the devil would, if in his power, destroy each of your souls, but Christ, by his mighty power, prevents him.
And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters. And they that kept them fled, and went their ways into the city, and told every thing, and what was befallen to the possessed of the devils. And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought [him] that he would depart out of their coasts.
Here observe, that no sooner had Christ given the devils permission to enter the swine, but they did, and their malice was so great, that the swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and were drowned.
What poor spite was here, that the devil should disturb poor swine! And the city, therefore, was so grieved for the loss of a little wealth, that they came and besought Christ to depart; they did not want his company; they preferred a few poor swine before the company of Christ; and few worldly good, a little pleasure, or any thing rather than Christ, part with Christ before any thing; but one, who is sensible of the love of Christ, will part with all, rather than with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus far the letter of the story goes; perhaps you think there is nothing to be learned herefrom, and that this is all you are to understand by it; but if so, my brethren, you are much mistaken; for here is an excellent lesson to be learned, and that you will see, by considering the words again, in a spiritual sense.
And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep.
And do not you frequently experience great tempests in this world? Does not the sea of temptation beat over your souls? You are afraid lest you should be overcome by them; you can see no way to escape, for your souls are covered with waves, and you expect to be swallowed up in the tempest; you are afraid lest you should fall into the hands of the evil one. O do not fear, for Jesus Christ, though he may be asleep to your thinking, yet will keep you, he will preserve you from the raging of the men, of the Pharisees of this world; they may rage and spit forth all their venom against you, still Christ will deliver, preserve and protect you; if you but seek unto him in a sense of your own helplessness and unworthiness, you will soon find he is a God ready to pardon and forgive. O that all that hear me would be persuaded to bow their knee, and their hearts, as soon as they go home: but alas, how many of our Christians go to God, day by day, and call him, Father, which is but mocking of God, when the devil is their father. None have a right to call him father, but those who have received the spirit of adoption, whereby they have a right to call him, "Abba, Father." Could the brute beasts speak, they might call God father as well as some of you; for hi is their Creator to whom they owe their being; but this will not entitle you to call God father, in a spiritual sense; no, you must be born again of God; however you may flatter yourselves, you must have an inward principle wrought in your hearts by faith. This you must experience, this, this you must feel before you are Christians indeed.
The Lord Jesus Christ takes notice of each of you, you may think the Lord does not take notice of us, because we are in a field, and our of church walls; but he does observe with what view you came this evening to hear his word; he knows whether it was to satisfy your curiosity, or to find out wherewith you might ridicule the preacher. The thoughts and intentions of all your hearts are not hidden from Jesus Christ; though he may seem to be asleep, because you are, at present, insensible of his workings upon your heart, and he may not seem to take notice of you, and regard you, no more than he did the Syrophoenician woman; yet he will turn to you and behold you with live; the Lord will be mindful of you in due time, and speak peace to your troubled soul, though the sea of troubles is beating over you, though the Pharisees of this day are scoffing at you, yet, when Christ rebukes, then they shall cease.
Do not depend on yourself; say unto him, "Save us, Lord, or we perish!" beseech him to be your guide, and your salvation: I beseech you, by the tender mercies of God, which are in Christ Jesus, that you present yourselves to him, as your reasonable service.
Awake, you that sleep, and arise from the dead, from the death of sin, and Christ then will give you the light of his righteousness. Come to Christ and you shall be welcome; O come unto this blessed Jesus, come notwithstanding your vileness; for if you come not you will perish. If Christ does not save you, your own good meaning, your own good intentions cannot; no, as you are in your blood, so you must perish in your blood; but if you come to Christ you will find mercy, you shall not perish. You cannot find salvation in any other but in Christ; if the disciples could have saved themselves, they would not have awoken Jesus Christ; but they were sensible that no one could save them but him; and therefore they cried out unto him; and so you, who are under the sense of sin, who are in fear of hell, if you seek unto your own works, you only seek your own death; for there is no fitness in you. I speak the truth in Christ Jesus, I lie not, there is not fitness in you, but a fitness for eternal damnation; for what are you by nature, but children of wrath, and your hearts are Satan's garrison. Because you have gone to church, said the prayers, gone to the sacrament, and done o one any harm, you speak peace to your souls; and all is in peace you think, and your case is good enough; but indeed, all is a false peace, and if you have no other peace than this, you must shortly lie down in everlasting flames; this is an ungrounded, self-created peace, and if you trust to this peace you will perish.
But do as the disciples did when they were in distress; they go to Christ and say to him, "Lord, save us, we perish." I offer you salvation this day; the door of mercy is not yet shut, there does yet remain a sacrifice for sins, for all that will accept of the Lord Jesus Christ; he only knows the inmost thoughts of thy heart, he will embrace you in the arms of his love; he sees the first risings of grace in you, and would willingly encourage it: the angels long for your being in the love and favor of God; they will rejoice to see you turn from sin unto him. All the ministers of the blessed Jesus would be glad to be instruments to turn you from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.
And he saith to them, why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?
And so, my brethren, I may say to you; why are you fearful to leave you sins and turn to God? O turn to him, turn in a sense of your own unworthiness; tell him how polluted you are, how vile, and be not faithless, but believe; do not go in your own strength, and then you need not fear. Why fear ye that the Lord Jesus Christ will not accept of you? Your sins will be no hindrance, your unworthiness will be no hindrance; if your own corrupt hearts do not keep you back, or if your own good works do not hinder you from coming, nothing will hinder Christ from receiving of you: he loves to see poor sinners coming to him, he is pleased to see them lie at his feet pleading his promises: and if you thus come to Christ, he will not send you away without his Spirit; no, but will receive and bless you.
O do not put a slight on infinite love; what would you have Christ do more? Is it not enough for him to come on purpose to save? Will you not serve God in your souls, as well as with your bodies? If not, you are only deceiving yourselves; and mocking of God; he must have the heart. O ye of little faith, why are ye fearful lest he should not accept of you? If you will not believe me, sure you will believe the Lord Jesus Christ; he has told thee that he will receive you; then why tarry ye, and do not go to him directly? Does he desire impossibilities? It is only, "Give me thy heart;" or, does he want your heart only for the same end as the devil does, to make you miserable? No, he only wants you to believe on him, that you might be saved. This, this, is all the dear Savior desires, to make you happy, that you may leave your sins, to sit down eternally with him, at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Then he arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
Thus, you see, it was only to the power of Christ to stop the raging of the sea; he rebuked it; the disciples might have spoken for ever, and it would not have ceased; so it is with the word preached; I may preach to you while I live; I may speak till I can speak no more; but the doctrines of Christ will never do you good, unless he impress them upon your hearts; O then, in all thy troubles look up to Christ, that he may rebuke them; and if he speaks the word, then they shall cease. If the Pharisees of this generation scoff and jeer you, if they say all manner of evil against you, do not answer them; leave it unto Christ to rebuke them; for all you can say will be of no more signification, than the disciples speaking to the sea; but when Christ speaks the word, then they shall cease; let it not discourage you, for if you will live godly in Christ Jesus, you must suffer persecution.
It is true, that those who are sincerely good, are set up for marks for every one to shoot at. There is a continual enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent; if you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because Christ hath chosen you out of the world, therefore it hateth you.
Do not think of following Christ into glory, unless you go through the press here. Look forward, my brethren, into eternity, and behold Christ coming, and his reward with him, to give a kind recompense for all the temptations and difficulties of this present life.
But the men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the seas obey him!
The men of the ship were amazed to see the miracle that Jesus Christ wrought only by his word; they thought he was something more than a man. And have not we as much reason to admire, that when we are overwhelmed with troubles, from within and without, that Jesus Christ, only by the word of his power, should speak peace, and then there is peace indeed. When God first awakens us with a sense of sin, and sets his terrors in array against us, then there are troubles and tempests; for Satan having got possession, before he will give place, he will fight and strive hard to keep the soul from closing with Jesus. But when Christ comes, he storms the heart, he breaks the peace, he giveth it most terrible alarms of judgment and hell, he sets all in a combustion of fear and sorrow, `till he hath forced it to yield to his mere mercy, and take him for its governor; then Satan is cast out; then the storm is rebuked, and he establishes a firm and lasting peace.
Can the sea be still while the wind is raging? No, it is impossible; so it is that there can be no peace in the soul, while it is at enmity with Christ; indeed, it may flatter itself and speak peace, but there can be no true peace; though thou, O Pharisee, may harden and fortify thy heart against fear, grief, and trouble, yet, as sure as God is true, they will batter down thy proud and fortified spirit, and seize upon it, and drive thee to amazement. This will be done here, or hereafter; here in mercy, or hereafter in wrath and judgment.
O my brethren, consider what Christ hath done, and you will be astonished that he has done so much for such wicked wretches as you and I are. If you are easy under the storm and tempest of sin, and do not cry to Christ for salvation, thou art in a dangerous condition; and it is a wonder to consider, how a man that is not sure of having made his peace with God, can eat, or drink, or live in peace; that thou art not afraid, when thou liest down, that thou should'st awake in hell: but if Christ speak peace unto thy soul, who can then speak trouble? None; no, not men or devils. Therefore, lie down at the feet of Christ whom you have resisted, and say, Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do? And he will rebuke the winds and seas of thy troubled mind, and all things will be calm.
And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possesses with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way.
The Lord Jesus Christ, who went about doing good continually, very well knew, that he should meet two poor men in this country of the Gergesenes, who were possessed with devils; and Jesus Christ went on purpose that way, that he might relieve them. The devil, where he has the power, never wants will; but as I said before, so I say again, though the devil is an enemy, yet he is a chained one; he could not destroy these two poor men, he could not hurt the people that passed that way, he could only terrify them; and thus it is with you; the devil tries his utmost skill and power to frighten you from coming to the Lord Jesus; he uses the utmost of his endeavors to keep poor sick and weary sinners from coming to Jesus; if he can but make you lose your souls, it is the end he aims at.
And how many souls does he keep from Christ, for fear of reproach? Many thousands would willingly see Christ in his glory, in the world to come, and would be happy with him there, but they are afraid of being now laughed at, and of hearing the Pharisees say, here is another of his followers; they are afraid of losing their worldly business, or of being counted methodistically mad and fit for bedlam. I doubt not but many are kept from Jesus Christ, for fear of a little of inconveniency.
What will such say, when the Lord Jesus Christ shall appear in his glory? Would you be glad to be confessed by him then, you must now not be ashamed of confessing him before men; let not the fierceness of the devil keep you back from Christ, for fear of being counted fools; for the time will come, when it will be found who are truly wise, and who are truly mad.
Are you afraid to stand up for the cause of Christ in the world? Dare not you be singularly good? Are you afraid of being members of Jesus Christ? I tell you, such persons would crucify him afresh were he in the world. But do not you, my brethren, so learn Christ; let not the temptations of the devil keep you from coming to the Lord Jesus Christ; he may be fierce, he may hurry you from place to place, but strive with him, so that he may not drive you from Christ; and if you seek unto Christ, he will so help you that you shall resist the devil, and then he will fly from you; Christ will dispossess him, be not afraid therefore to meet Jesus Christ; tell him all that your souls want, and he will give it to you; and you shall not be any longer troubled with the fierce outrages of the devil.
And they cried out, saying, what have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? Art thou come to torment us before the time?
As soon as the devils observed Jesus coming near, then they were afraid, lest he was come to punish them before that day of accounts, when all must be brought to judgment.
The devils themselves are enough to convince all our polite Arians and Socinians. They here own the Lord Jesus Christ to be God blessed for ever; they feel his power, and are assured of his being the God who must condemn them at the great day of accounts; and they were afraid lest the Lord Jesus Christ was come to punish them now. But though the devils believe the divinity of Christ, yet the world swarms with Arians and Socinians.
The Arians make Christ no more than a titular God, a subordinate deity, one who was more than a man, and yet less than God; that he was a prophet sent from God they own, but deny him to be equal with the Father. But I hope, my brethren, he is to you, what our creed makes him, God of God, very God of very God, co-eternal and consubstantial with the Father; that as there was not a moment of time in which God the Father was not, so there is not a moment of time in which God the Son was not. For he says himself, "All things were made by him;" and if they were made by him, he must be God; and whoever reads but the word of God, will find divine homage is paid to him, "and that he thought it no robbery to be equal with God;" he is "the Alpha and Omega." These and a great many more places might be brought to prove the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ; he could never have made satisfaction for our sins if he had not been God as well as Man. As Man he suffered; as God he satisfied; so was God and man in one person; he took our nature upon him, and was offered upon the cross for the sins of all those who come unto him, which if he had not been God he could never have satisfied for. It may be proved, even to a demonstration, that the Lord Jesus Christ is God, and that he is equal with the Father.
The Socinians do not go so far as the others; they look on Christ to be no more than a good man, who told the people their duty, and died in defense of the doctrines which he delivered unto them.
But I hope there are none such here, that have so low and dishonorable thoughts of the blessed Jesus, and that thus despise the divinity of the Lord who bought them. No, I hope better things of you, and things that accompany salvation. Think you, that any one who denies the deity of Christ can ever be saved by him, living and dying in that state? Surely, the time will come, when they who have denied his Deity, shall feel the power of it hereafter; they shall feel that he is God as well as man; then he will be owned as God by all those who now dare to deny his truths; but God forbid it should go undetermined till then! Woe unto the polite infidels of this generation, for the devils will rise up in judgment against them.
If any such are here, consider what you are doing of, before it is too late; return, return ye unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon you, and to Jesus Christ, and he will abundantly pardon. O my friends, let me beseech you to consider what you are about, lest you fall into hell, and there be none to deliver you.
And the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.
Here we may see, that no sooner had the devil power, but he puts it into execution; thus, if the devil has but power to tempt, or to hurry a soul, O how grievous a tyrant he is, hurrying from one temptation to another, from one sin unto another, and would, if it were possible, hurry you all into hell with as much violence, as he did the poor swine into the sea; but Christ by his grace prevents it. Jesus Christ died for souls, and therefore the devil cannot do with them as he will; he may have the will, but he cannot get the power. It is plain, that when the devil himself, or persecuting men, get the power, they will harass the poor Christians; everything is goo good for them, and they are not worthy to be set with the dogs of the flock. My brethren, how joyful would many be, if the laws of our land would permit them to destroy us; how would the Pharisees hurry us to prison and to death; but, blessed be God, he does not say to them, as to the devil, "Go." No, he bids them stay, he hedges their way up with thorns that they cannot stir to hurt us; they would fain, but they dare not destroy us; nothing withholds them but the power of the blessed Jesus. And therefore, be not afraid of their wrath though it is cruel, and of their anger though it be fierce; let them shoot their arrows, even bitter words, against us, blessed be God, the shield of faith will be a preservative against them all.
And when you are thus preserved, it will be the occasion of joy in the Holy Ghost; though many look on the joy of the Holy Ghost as enthusiasm and madness, and say that there is no such thing; but well do I know there is, it carries its own evidence along with it. Plead therefore with God, in the name of Jesus Christ; continue to wrestle with him, until he bestows the blessing upon you, and gives you a feeling of that joy which the world intermeddles not with, and which they are strangers to; indeed the devil may stir up his agents to hurry us from one trouble to another; but it will not signify, for the Lord Jesus Christ will not suffer him to hurry us into hell; no, but will give us his Spirit, which will be a preservative against all the assaults of the devil. Now see what followed this miracle, which Jesus had wrought, by permitting the devil to enter into the herd of swine.
And they that kept them fled, and went their ways into the city, and told every thing, and what was befallen to the possessed of the devils.
The people were so amazed to see the power that Christ had, and the malice with which the devil was possessed, that they were afraid, and told all that had befallen the possessed of the devils; and so, when the spirit of God has been at work on your souls, and you are brought to feel the power of God upon your hearts, you will be so overjoyed that you will tell to every one what great things God has done for your souls; you will be so full of joy, that you will declare the whole working of God on your hearts, and you will declare how you have been enabled to overcome Satan, and how you were affected at such a sermon, in such a place, and at such a time.
You will then love to talk of Jesus; no conversation will be so pleasing as that of the Lord Jesus Christ; no, he will be altogether lovely unto you, when you have once tasted of his love, and felt the power of his grace upon your hearts.
And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought [him] that he would depart out of their coasts.
The whole city came to meet Jesus, not to worship, nor to thank him for the releasing of the two poor men who were possessed; no, but to beseech him to go from them; they valued their swine more than the Lord Jesus Christ, and had rather part from him, than them; and have we not among us, thousands who call themselves Christians, who had rather part with Christ than their pleasures? A play, a ball, or an assembly is far more agreeable to them than the company and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ: if they can but indulge their sensual appetite, please and pamper their bellies, satisfy the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, they regard no more, but rest contented, as if they were to live here always. O my dear brethren, I hope none of you can rest contented with such proceedings as these, but that you like the company of the Lord Jesus too well to part with him for a few delights of this life: and are there not many, who part with Christ for their own good works, and think they can go to heaven, if they do but go to church and say their prayers and take the sacrament? But alas! they will be much deceived, for if they were in any thing short of the Lord Jesus, if they do not make him the chief corner-stone, they will fall infinitely short of what they flattered themselves to attain unto.
I would speak a few words to you before I part from you this evening, by way of application. Let me beseech you to come to Jesus Christ; I invite you all to come to him and receive him as your Lord and Savior; he is ready to receive you; if you are afraid to go because you are in a lost condition, he came to save such; and to such as were weary and heavy laden, such as feel the weight and burden of their sins, he has promised he will give rest: such as feel the weight and burden of their sins on their souls, a burden too heavy for them to bear, are weary of it, and know not how to obtain deliverance of it, in the name of my Lord and master, I invite you to come to him, that you may find rest for your souls.
If you will but come unto him he will not reproach you, as justly he might; he will not reflect upon you for not coming sooner unto him; no, my dear brethren, he will rejoice and be glad, and will say unto you, "Son, daughter, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you:" these words he said to others; and if you will but come unto him, by faith in his blood, he is ready to say the same unto you now, as he did to them formerly, for "he is the same to-day, yesterday and for ever:" though he suffered on the cross seventeen hundred years ago, yet he is the same in goodness and power as ever he was.
He calls you, by his ministers; O come unto him, beg of him to break your stubborn hearts, that you may be willing to be brought to him in his own way, to be made poor in spirit, and entitled to an inheritance among them that are sanctified.
O come and drink of the water of life; you may buy without money and without price; he is laboring to bring you back from sin, and from Satan unto himself: open the door of your hearts, and the King of glory shall enter in.
But if you are strangers to this doctrine, and account it foolishness; or, if you think you have enough of your own to recommend you to the favor of God, however you may go to church, or receive the sacrament, you have no true love to the Lord Jesus Christ; you are strangers to the truth of grace in your hearts, and are unacquainted with the new-birth; you do not know what it is to have your natures changed; and `till you do experience these things, you never can enter into the kingdom of God.
What shall I say, my brethren, unto you? My heart is full, it is quite full, and I must speak, or I shall burst. What, do you think your souls of no value? Do you esteem them as not worth saving? Are your pleasures worth more than your souls? Had you rather regard the diversions of this life, than the salvation of your souls? If so, you will never be partakers with him in glory; but if you come unto him, he will give you a new nature, supply you with his grace here, and bring you to glory hereafter; and there you may sing praises and hallelujahs o the Lamb forever.
And may this be the happy end of all who hear me! may the Lord guide you by his counsel, until he comes to fetch you to heaven, and make you partakers of his glory!
May he direct you in his ways, and lead you in those paths which lead to everlasting life! May you be holy here, and happy hereafter: may your lives answer the profession you make, that we may all be found at the right hand of the Lord Jesus Christ, when he shall come to judge the world according to our works, whether they be good or evil! And that we then may be presented faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, God of his infinite mercy grant, &c.
Ephesians 5:18 - "Be not drunk with Wine, wherein is Excess; but be filled with the Spirit."
The persons to whom these words were written, were the inhabitants of Ephesus, as we are told in the Acts, had been worshippers of the great goddess Diana, and, in all probability, worshipped the God Baccbus also; at the celebration of whose festivals, it was always customary, nay, part of their religion, to get drunk; as though there was no other way to please their God, but by turning themselves into brutes.
The apostle therefore in this chapter, amongst many other precepts more especially applicable to them, lays down this in the text; and exhorts them, as they had now, by the free grace of God, been turned from heathenish darkness to the light of the gospel, to walk as children of light, and no longer make it part of their religion or practice to be "drunk with wine, wherein is excess;" but, on the contrary, strive to "be filled with the Spirit" of that Savior, after whose name they were called, and whose religion taught them to abstain from a filthy sin, and to live soberly as they ought to live.
The world being now Christian, and the doctrines of the gospel every where received, one would imagine, there should be no reason for repeating the precept now before us. But alas, Christians! I mean Christians falsely so called, are led captive by all sin in general, and by this or drunkenness in particular; that was St. Paul to rise again from the dead, he might be tempted to think most of us were turned back to the worship of dumb idols; had set up temples in honor of Baccbus; and made it part of our religion, as the Ephesians did of theirs, "to be drunk with wine, wherein is excess."
Some of our civil magistrates have not been wanting to use the power given them from above, for the punishment and restraint of such evil doings; and I wish it could be said this plague of drinking, by what they have done, had been stayed amongst us. But alas! though their labor, we trust, has not been altogether in vain in the Lord, yet thousands, and I could almost say ten thousands, fall daily at our right-hand, by this sin of drunkenness, in our streets; nay, men seem to have made a covenant with hell, and though the power of the civil magistrate is exerted against them, nay, though they cannot but daily see the companions of their riot hourly, by this sin, brought to the grave, yet "they will rise up early to follow strong drink, and cry, To-morrow shall be as today, and so much the more abundantly; when we awake, we will seek it yet again."
It is high time therefore, for thy ministers, O God, to lift up their voices like a trumpet; and since human threats cannot prevail, to set before them the terrors of the Lord, and try if these will not persuade them to cease from the evil of their doings.
But alas! how shall I address myself to them? I fear excess of drinking has made them such mere Nabals, that there is no speaking to them. And many of God's servants have toiled all their life-time in dissuading them from this sin of drunkenness, yet they will not forbear. However, at thy command, I will speak also, though they be a rebellious house. Magnify thy strength, O Lord, in my weakness, and grant that I may speak with such demonstration of the Spirit, and power, that from henceforward they may cease to act so unwisely, and this sin of drunkenness may not be their ruin.
Believe me, ye unhappy men of Belial, (for such, alas! this sin has made you) it is not without the strongest reasons, as well as utmost concern for your precious and immortal souls, that I now conjure you, in the Apostle's words, "Not to be drunk with wine, or any other liquor, wherein is excess." For,
FIRST, Drunkenness is a sin which must be highly displeasing to God; because it is an abuse of his good creatures.
When God first made man, and had breathed into him the breath of life, he gave him dominion over the works of his hands; and every herb bearing seed, and every tree, in which was the fruit of a tree yielding seed, to him was given for meat: but when Adam had tasted the forbidden fruit, which was the only restraint laid upon him, he forfeited this privilege, and had no right, after he had disobeyed his Creator, to the use of any one of the creatures.
But, blessed be God, this charter, as well as all other privileges, is restored to us by the death of the second Adam, our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. Of every beast of the field, every fish of the sea, and whatsoever flieth in the air, or moveth on the face of the earth, that is fit for food, "we may freely eat," without scruple take and eat; but then, with this limitation, that we use them moderately. For God, by the death of Jesus, has given no man license to be intemperate; but, on the contrary, has laid us under the strongest obligations to live soberly, as well as godly, in this present world.
But the drunkard, despising the goodness and bounty of God, in restoring to us what we had so justly forfeited, turns his grace into wantonness; and as though the creature was not of itself enough subject to vanity, by being cursed for our sake, he abuses it still more, by making it administer to his lusts; and turns that wine which was intended to make glad his heart, into a deadly poison.
But thinkest thou, O drunkard, whosoever thou art, thou shalt escape the righteous judgment of God? No, the time will shortly come that thou must be no longer steward, and then the Sovereign Lord of all the earth will reckon with thee for thus wasting his goods. Alas! wilt thou then wrest scripture any longer to thy own damnation? And because Jesus Christ turned water into wine at the marriage-feast, to supply the wants of his indigent host, say, that it is therefore meet to make merry, and be drunken. No, thou shalt be silent before him; and know, that though thou hast encouraged thyself in drunkenness by such-like arguments, yet for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. But,
SECONDLY, What makes drunkenness more exceedingly sinful, is, that a man, by falling into it, sinneth against his own body.
When the apostle would dissuade the Corinthians from fornication, he urges this as an argument, "Flee fornication, brethren; for he that committeth fornication, sinneth against his own body." And may not I as justly cry out, Flee drunkenness, my brethren, since he that committeth that crime, sinneth against his own body? For, from whence come so many diseases and distempers in your bodies? Come they not from hence, even from your intemperance in drinking? Who hath pains in the head? Who hath rottenness in the bones? Who hath redness of eyes? He that tarries long at the wine, he that rises early to seek new wine. How many walking skeletons have you seen, whose bodies were once exceeding fair to look upon, fat and well-favored; but, by this sin of drinking, how has their beauty departed from them, and how have they been permitted to walk to and fro upon the earth, as though God intended to set them up, as he did Lot's wife, for monuments of his justice, that others might learn not to get drunk? Nay, I appeal to yourselves: are not many, for this cause, even now sickly among you? And have not many of your companions, whom you once saw so flourishing, like green bay trees, been brought by it with sorrow to their graves?
We might, perhaps, think ourselves hardly dealt with by God, was he to send us, as he did the royal Psalmist, to choose one plague out of three, whereby we should be destroyed. But had the Almighty decreed to cut off man from the face of the earth, and to shorten his days, he could not well send a more effectual plague, than to permit men, as they pleased, to over- charge themselves with drunkenness; for though it be a slot, yet it is a certain poison. And if the sword has slain its thousands, drunkenness has slain its ten thousands.
And will not this alarm you, O ye transgressors? Will not this persuade you to spare yourselves, and to do your bodies no harm? What, have you lost the first principles of human nature, the fundamental law of self- preservation? You seem to have a great fondness for your bodies; why, otherwise, to gratify the inordinate appetites, do you drink to excess? But surely, if you truly loved them, you would not thus destroy them; and was there no other argument to be urged against drunkenness, the consideration that it will destroy those live you are so fond of, one would imagine, should be sufficient.
I know, indeed, that it is a common answer, which drunkards make to those, who, out of love, would pull them as firebrands out of the fire, we are no body's enemy but our own. But this, instead of being an excuse for, is an aggravation of their guilt: for (not to mention that the drunkenness of one man has clothes many a family with rags, and that it is scarce possible for a person to be drunk, without tempting his neighbor also) not to mention these, and many other ill consequences, which would prove such an excuse to be entirely false: yet what is dearer to a man than himself? And if he himself be lost, what would all the whole world avail him? But how wilt thou stand, O man, before the judgment-seat of Christ, and make such an excuse, when thou shalt be arraigned before him as a self-murderer? Will it then be sufficient, thinkest thou, to say, I was no man's enemy but my own? No; God will then tell thee, that thou oughtest to have glorified him with thy spirit, and with thy body, which were his; and since thou hast, by intemperance, destroyed thy body, he will destroy both thy body and soul in hell. But,
THIRDLY, What renders drunkenness more inexcusable, is, that it robs a man of his reason.
Reason is the glory of a man; the chief thing whereby God has made us to differ from the brute creation. And our modern unbelievers have exalted it to such a high degree, as even to set it in opposition to revelation, and so deny the Lord that bought them. But though, in doing this, they greatly err, and whilst they profess themselves wise, become real fools; yet we must acknowledge, that reason is the candle of the Lord, and whosoever puts it out, shall bear his punishment, whosoever he be.
But yet, this the drunkard does. Nebuchadnezzar's curse he makes his choice, his reason departeth from him; and then what is he better than a brute?
The very heathen kings were so sensible of this, that, in order to deter their young princes from drinking, they used to make their slaves get drunk, and be exposed before them. And didst thou but see thine own picture, O drunkard, when, after having drowned thy reason, thou staggerest to and fro, like one of the fools in Israel, and seest thy very companions making songs upon thee, surely thou wouldst not return to thy vomit again, but abhor thyself in dust and ashes!
When David, in a holy ecstasy, was dancing before the ark, Michal, Saul's daughter, despised him in her heart; and when he came home, she said, "How glorious was the king of Israel today, who uncovered himself today in the eyes of the hand-maids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself." But may not every one that meets a drunkard, more justly say, How glorious does he, that was made a little lower than the angels, look today, when, unmindful of his dignity, he has by drinking robbed himself of his reason, and reduced himself to a level with the beasts that perish.
But what if God, in the midst of one of these drunken fits, should arrest thee by death, and say unto thee, "Thou fool, this moment shall thy soul be required of thee." O! how shouldst thou appear in those filthy garments before that God, in whose sight the heavens are not clean. And how knowest thou, O man, but this may be thy lit? Hast thou not known many summoned at such an unguarded hour? And what assurance hast thou, that thou shalt not be the next? Because God has forborn thee so long, thinkest thou he will forbear always? No, this is rather a sign that he will come at an hour thou lookest not for him; and since his goodness and long-suffering has not led thee to repentance, he will cut thee down, and not permit thee to cumber the ground any longer. Consider this then, all ye that count it a pleasure to turn yourselves into brutes, lest God pluck you away by a sudden death, and there be none to deliver you.
FOURTHLY, There is a farther aggravation of this crime, that it is an inlet to, and forerunner of many other sins; for it seldom comes alone.
We may say of drunkenness, as Solomon does in strife, that it is like the letting out of water; for we know not what will be the end thereof. Its name is Legion; behold a troop of sins cometh after it. And, for my own part, when I see a drunkard, with the holy Prophet, when he looked in Hazael's face, I can hardly forbear weeping, to consider how many vices he may fall into, ere he comes to himself again.
What horrid incest did righteous Lot commit with his own daughters, when they had made him drunk? And, I doubt not, but there are many amongst you, who have committed such crimes when you have deprived yourselves of your reason by drinking, that were you to hear of them, your heart, like Nabal's, after he was told how he had abused David when he was drunk, would die within you. And, had any one told you, when you were sober, that you would have been guilty of such crimes, you would have cried out, with Hazael before-mentioned, "Are thy servants so many dogs, that they should do that?"
But no marvel that drunkards commit such crimes; for drunkenness drives the Holy Spirit from them; they become mere machines for the devil to work up to what he pleases; he enters into them, as he entered into the herd of swine; and no wonder if they then commit all uncleanness, and any other crime, with greediness. But this leads me to a
FIRTH consideration, which highly aggravates the sin of drunkenness, it separates the Holy Spirit from us.
It is to be hoped, that no one here present need be informed, that before we can be assured we are Christians indeed, we must receive the Holy Ghost, must be born again from above, and have the Spirit of God witnessing with our spirits, that we are the sons of God. This, this alone is true Christianity; and without the cohabitation of this blessed Spirit in our hearts, our righteousness does not exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, and we shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of God.
But now, drunkards do in effect bid this blessed Spirit to depart from them: for what has he to do with such filthy swine? They have no log of share in the Spirit of the Son of David. They have chased him out of their hearts, by defiling his temple; I mean their bodies. And he can no more hold communion with them, than light can have communion with darkness, or Christ have concord with Belial.
The apostle, therefore, in the words of the text, exhorts the Ephesians, "not to be drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but to be filled with the Spirit;" thereby implying, that drunkenness and the Spirit of God could never dwell in the same heart. And in another epistle, he bids them to avoid unprofitable conversation, as a thing which grieved the Holy Spirit: whereby alone they could be sealed to the day of redemption. And if unprofitable conversation grieves the Holy Spirit, at what an infinite distance must drunkenness drive him from the hearts of men?
O that you were wise! That you would consider what a dreadful thing it is to have the Sprit of the loving God depart from you! For, assure yourselves, if you live without him, you will live without God in the world. You are in the same miserable forlorn condition as Saul was, when an evil spirit of the Lord came upon him; and you are only so many vessels of wrath fitted for destruction. But this brings me to a
SIXTH reason against the sin of drunkenness; it absolutely unfits a man for the enjoyment of God in heaven, and exposes him to his eternal wrath.
To see and enjoy God, and to be like the blessed angels, always beholding the face of our heavenly Father, in the glories of his kingdom, is such an unspeakable happiness, that even wicked men, though they will not live the life of the righteous, cannot but wish their future state to be like his.
But think you, O ye drunkards, that you shall ever be partakers of this inheritance with the saints in light? Do you flatter yourselves, that you, who have made them often the subject of your drunken songs, shall now be exalted to sing with them the heavenly songs of Zion? No, as by drunkenness you have made your hearts cages of unclean birds, with impure and unclean spirits must you dwell.
A burning Tophet, kindled by God's wrath, is prepared for you reception, where you must suffer the vengeance of eternal fire, and in vain cry out for a drop of water to cool your tongues. Indeed you shall drink, but it shall be a cup of God's fury: for in the hand of the Lord there will be a cup of fury, it will be full mixed, and as for the dregs thereof, all the drunkards of the land shall suck them out.
But perhaps you may not believe this report. These words may be looked upon by you as idle tales, and I may seem to you as Lot did to his sons-in- law, when he came to warn them to get up out of Sodom, "as one that mocketh." But if you believe not me, believe eternal truth itself, which has positively declared, that no drunkard shall ever enter into his kingdom.
And I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that as surely as the Lord rained fire and brimstone, as soon as Lot went out of Sodom, so surely will God cast you into a lake of fire and brimstone, when he shall come to take vengeance on them that know not God, and have not obeyed the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Behold then I have told you before; remember, that you this day were informed what the end of drunkenness would be. And I summon you, in the name of that God whom I serve, to meet me at the judgment-seat of Christ, that you may acquit both my Master and me; and confess, with your own mouths, that your damnation was of yourselves, and that we are free from the blood of you all.
But, Lord, has no one believed our report? Wilt thou suffer so many words to be spoken in vain, if it be yet in vain? No, methinks I see some pricked to the heart, and ready to cry out, in the language of David to Abigail, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which sent thee this day to speak unto us." For surely, unless he had sent thee, this sin of drunkenness had been our ruin: but now, since we find whither it will lead us, we are resolved to drink no liquor to excess while the world stands, lest we should be tormented in the flames of hell.
But alas! how shall we be delivered from the power of this sin? Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? So hard, almost, will it be for you who have been accustomed to be intemperate, to learn to live sober.
But do not despair; for what is impossible with man, is possible with God. Of whom then should you seek for succor, but of him your Lord? Who, though for this sin of drunkenness, he might justly turn away his face from you; yet observe,
FIRST, If you pour out your hearts before him in DAILY PRAYER, and ask assistance from above, it may be God will endue you with power from on high, and make you more than conquerors through Jesus Christ. Had you kept up communion with him in prayer, you would not so long, by drunkenness, have had communion with devils. But, like the Prodigal, you have desired to be your own masters; you have lived without prayer, depended on your own strength; and now see, alas! on what a broken reed you have leaned. How soon have you made yourselves like the beasts that have no understanding? But turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways. Come to him with the repenting Prodigal saying, "Father we have sinned;" we beseech thee, let not this sin of drunkenness have any longer dominion over us. Lay hold on Christ by faith, and lo! It shall happen to you even as you will. A
SECOND means I would recommend to you, in order to get the better or drunkenness, is to AVOID EVIL COMPANY. For it is the evil communication of wicked men, that has drawn many thousands into this sin, and so corrupted their good manners.
But you may say, If I leave my companions, I must expect contempt: for they will certainly despise me for being singular. And thinkest thou, O man, ever to enter in at the strait gate by a true conversion, without being had in derision of them that are round about thee? No; though thou mayst be despised, and not go to heaven, yet thou canst not go to heaven without being despised: "For the friendship of the world is enmity with God." And they that are born after the flesh, will persecute those that are born after the Spirit. Let not, therefore, a servile fear of being despised by a man that shall die, hinder thy turning unto the living God. For what is a little contempt? It is but a vapor which vanisheth away, and cometh not again. Better be derided by a few companions here, than be made ashamed before men and angels hereafter. Better be the song of a few drunkards on earth, than dwell with them, where they will be eternally reproaching and cursing each other in hell. Yet a little while, and they themselves shall praise thy doings, and shall say, We, fools, counted his leaving us to be folly, and his end to be without honor: but how is he numbered among the sons of God, and his lot among the saints!
But I hasten to lay down a
THIRD means for those who would overcome the sin of drunkenness, to enter upon a life of STRICT SELF-DENIAL and mortification: for this kind of sin goeth not forth but by prayer and fasting. It is true, this may seem a difficult task; but then, we must thank ourselves for it; for had we begun sooner, our work would have been the easier. And even now, if you will but strive, the yoke of mortification will grow lighter and lighter every day.
And now, by way of conclusion, I cannot but exhort all persons, high and low, rich and poor, to practice a strict self-denial in eating and drinking. For though "the kingdom of God consists not in meats and drinks," yet an abstemious [moderate, sober, temperate] use of God's good creatures, greatly promotes the spiritual life. And perhaps there are more destroyed by living in a regular sensuality, than even by the very sin I have been warning you of. I know indeed, that many, who are only almost Christians, and who seek, but do not strive to enter into the kingdom of God, urge a text of scripture to justify their indulgence, saying, that "it is not what entereth into the man defileth the man." And so we grant, when taken moderately; but then they should consider, that it is possible, nay, it is proved by daily experience, that a person may eat and drink so much as not to hurt his body, and yet do infinite prejudice to his soul: for self- indulgence lulls the soul into a spiritual slumber, as well as direct intemperance; and though the latter may expose us to more contempt among men, yet the former, if continued in, will as certainly shut us out from the presence of God. St. Paul knew this full well; and therefore, though he was the spiritual father of thousands, and was near upon finishing his course, yet he says, it was his daily practice to "keep his body under, and bring it into subjection, lest after he had preached to others, he himself should be a cast-away," or disapproved of, or do something that might make him an offense or stumbling-block to any of God's children: for of his own, and all other saints final perseverance, he makes no doubt, as is evident from many of his epistles; and the word ajdovkimo" bears this sense, 2 Cor. 13:5 and sundry other places. But why urge I the apostle's example, to excite you to a strict temperance in eating and drinking? Rather let me exhort you only to put in practice the latter part of the text, to labor to "be filled with the Spirit of God," and then you will no longer search the scriptures to find arguments for self-indulgence; but you will seal sincerely with yourselves, and eat and drink no more at any time, than what is consistent with the strictest precepts of the gospel. O beg of God, that you may see, how you are fallen in Adam, and the necessity of being renewed, ere you can be happy, by the Spirit of Jesus Christ! Let us beseech him to enlighten us to see the treachery of our corrupt hearts, and how pure and holy these bodies ought to be, that they ought to be living temples of the Holy Ghost, and then we shall show ourselves men. And being made temples of the Holy Ghost, by his dwelling in our bodies here, though after death, worms may destroy them, yet shall they be raised by the same Spirit at the general resurrection of the last day, to be fashioned like unto Christ's glorious body hereafter.
Matthew 6:13 - "Lead us not into temptation."
The great and important duty which is incumbent on Christians, is to guard against all appearance of evil; to watch against the first risings in the heart to evil; and to have a guard upon our actions, that they may not be sinful, or so much as seem to be so. It is true, the devil is tempting us continually, and our own evil hearts are ready to join with the tempter, to make us fall into sins, that he thereby may obtain a victory over us, and that we, my brethren, may be his subjects, his servants, his slaves; and then by-and-by he will pay us our wages, which will be death temporal, and death eternal. Our Lord Jesus Christ saw how his people would be tempted; and that the great enemy of their souls would lay hold of every opportunity, so he could but be a means of keeping poor sinners from coming to the Lord Jesus Christ; hurrying you with temptation, to drive you to some great sins; and then if he cannot gain you over, sell it to a smaller, and suit his temptations time after time; and when he finds none of these things will do, often transform himself into an angel of light, and by that means make the soul fall into sin, to the dishonor of God, and the wounding of itself; the Lord Jesus, I say, seeing how liable his disciples, and all others, would be to be overcome by temptation, therefore advises them, when they pray, to beg that they might not be led into temptation. It is so dangerous to engage so subtle and powerful an enemy as Satan is, that we shall be overcome as often as we engage, unless the Lord is on our side. My brethren, if you were left to yourselves, you would be overcome by every temptation with which you are beset.
These words are part of the prayer which Christ taught his disciples; and I shall, therefore, make no doubt, but that you all believe them to be true, since they are spoken by one who cannot lie. I shall,
I. Show you who it is that tempts you.
II. Shall show, my brethren, why he tempts you.
III. Mention some of the ways and means he makes use of, to draw you over to his temptations.
IV. Let you see how earnest you ought to be to the Lord, that he may preserve you from being led into temptation.
V. I shall make some application by way of entreaty unto you, to come unto Christ, that he, my brethren, may deliver you from being tempted.
I. FIRST, We are to consider who it is that tempts us.
And the tempter is Satan, the prince of the power of the air, he that now ruleth in the children of disobedience; he is an enemy to God and goodness, he is a hater of all truth. Why else did he slander God in paradise? Why did he tell Eve, "You shall not surely die?" He is full of malice, envy, and revenge; for what reasons else could induce him to molest innocent man in paradise? The person that tempts ye, my brethren, is remarkable for his subtlety; for having not power given him from above, he is obliged to wait for opportunities to betray us, and to catch us by guile; he, therefore, made use of the serpent to tempt our first parents; and to lie in wait to deceive, is another part of his character. And though this character is given of the devil, if we were to examine our own hearts, we should find many of the tempter's characters legible in us.
Do not many of you love to make a lie? And if it is done in your trade; you therefore look on it as excusable; but whether you believe it or not, it is sinful, it is exceedingly sinful. Though you may value yourselves as fine rational creatures, and that you are noble beings; and you were so, as you first came out of God's hands; but now you are fallen, there is nothing lovely, nothing desirable in man; his heart is a sink of pollution, full of sin and uncleanness: Yet, though a man's own heart is so desperately wicked, he is told by our modern polite preachers, that there is a fitness in men, and that God seeing you a good creature, gives you his grace; but this, though it is a modern, polite, and fashionable way of talking, is very unscriptural; it is very contrary to the doctrines of the Reformation, and to our own Articles. But however contrary to the doctrines of the Church of England, yet our pulpits ring of nothing more, than doing no one any harm, living honestly, loving your neighbor as yourselves, and do what you can, and then Christ is to make up the deficiency: this is making Christ to be half a savior, and man the other part; but I say, Christ will be your whole righteousness, your whole wisdom, your whole sanctification, or else he will never be your whole redemption. How amazing is it, that the ministers of the church of England should speak quite contrary to what they have subscribed! Good God! If these are the guides of the ignorant, and esteemed to be the true ministers of Jesus, because they have a great share of letter-learning; when at the same time they are only the blind leaders of the blind; and without a special Providence, they both will fall into the ditch.
No wonder at people's talking of the fitness and unfitness of things, when they can tell us, that the Spirit of God, is a good conscience, and the comforts of the Holy Ghost are consequent thereupon. But this is wrong; for it should be said, the Spirit of God, are the comforts of the Holy Ghost, and a good conscience consequent thereupon. Seneca, Cicero, Plato, or any of the heathen philosophers, would have given as good a definition as this; it means no more than reflecting we have done well.
But let these modern, polite gentlemen, and let my letter-learned brethren, paint man in as lovely colors as they please, I will not do it; I dare not make him better than the word of God does. If I was to paint man in his proper colors, I must go to the kingdom of hell for a copy; for man is by nature full of pride, subtlety, malice, envy, revenge, and all uncharitableness; and what are these but the temper of the devil? And lust, sensuality, pleasure, these are the tempers of the beast. Thus, my brethren, man is half a beast, and half a devil, a motley mixture of the beast and devil. And this is the creature, who has made himself so obnoxious to the wrath of God, and open to his indignation, that is told, that he must be part his own savior, by doing good works, and what he cannot do Christ will do for him.
This is giving the tempter great room to come in with his temptation; he may press a soul to follow moral duties, to go to church, take the sacrament, read, pray, meditate; the devil is well content you should do all these; but if they are done in your own strength, or if you go no farther than here, you are only going a smoother way to hell.
Thus, my brethren, you may see who it is that tempts us. But
II. Why he tempts you, is the second thing I am to show you.
It is our of envy to you, and to the Lord Jesus Christ, he endeavors to keep you from closing with Jesus; and if he can but keep you from laying hold by faith on Christ, he knows he has you safe enough; and the more temptations you are under, and according to their nature and greatness, you are more hurried in your minds; and the more unsettled your thoughts and affections are, the more apt you are to conclude, that if you were to go to Christ, at present, in all that hurry of mind, he would not receive you; but this is a policy of the tempter, to make you have low and dishonorable thoughts of the blessed Jesus; and so by degrees he works upon your minds, that you are careless and indifferent about Christ. This, this, my brethren, is the design of the tempter. Nothing will please him more, than to see you ruined and lost forever. He tempts you for that end, that you may lose your interest in Jesus Christ, and that you may dwell with him and apostate spirits to all eternity. He knows that Jesus Christ died for sinners, yet he would fain keep souls from seeking to this city of refuge for shelter, and from going to Gilead for the true balm.
It is he that rules in thy heart, O scoffer, O Pharisee; the devil reigns there, and endeavors to blind your eyes, that you shall not see what danger you are in, and how much evil there is in those hearts of yours; and as long as he can keep you easy and unconcerned about having your hearts changed, he will be easy; though if he can, he will tempt you to sin against him, until you are hardened in your iniquity. O, my brethren, do not give the devil a handle wherewith he may lay hold on you; alas! it is not wonder that the devil tempts you, when he finds you at a play, a ball, or masquerade; if you are doing the devil's work, it is no wonder if he presses you in the continuation thereof; and how can any say, "Lead us not into temptation," in the morning, when they are resolved to run into it at night? Good God! Are these persons members of the church of England? Alas, when you have gone to church, and read over the prayers, it is offering no more than the sacrifice of fools; you say Amen to them with your lips, when in your hearts you are either unconcerned at what you are about, or else you think that the bare saying of your prayers is sufficient, and that then God and you have balanced accounts.
But, my dear brethren, do not deceive yourselves, God is not to be mocked. You are only ruining yourselves for time and eternity. You pray, "lead us not into temptation," when you are tempting the devil to come and tempt you.
III. I shall now point out some of the ways and means, he makes use of to draw you to himself.
But this is a field so large, and I have but just begun to be a soldier of Jesus Christ, that I cannot name many unto you. I shall therefore be very short on this head.
1. He endeavors to make you think sin is not so great as it is; that there is no occasion of being so over-strict, and that you are righteous over-much; that you are ostentatious [showy, pompous, egotistical], and will do yourself harm by it; and that you will destroy yourselves. He shows you, by brethren, the bait, but he hides the hook; he shows you the pleasure, profits, and advantages, that attend abundance of this world's goods; but he does not show you crosses, losses and vexations that you may have while you are in the enjoyment of the blessings of this world.
2. When he finds he cannot allure you by flattery, he will try you by frowns, and the terrors of this world; he will stir up people to point at you, and cry, "Here comes another troop of his followers;" He will stir them up to jeer, scoff, backbite, and hate you; but if he still finds this will not do, then he throws doubts, my brethren, and discouragement in your mind, whether the way you are in is the true way or not; or else he will suggest, What! Do you expect to be saved by Christ? Also, He did not die for you; you have been too great a sinner; you have lived in sin so long, and committed such sins against Christ, which he will not forgive. Thus he hurries poor sinners almost into despair.
And very often, when the people of God are met to worship him, he sends his agents, the scoffers, to disturb them. We saw an instance of their rage just now; they would fain have disturb us; but the Lord was on our side, and so prevented all the attempts of wicked and designing men, to disturb and disquiet us. Lord Jesus, forgive them who are thus persecuting thy truth! Jesus, show them that they are fighting against thee, and that it is hard for them to kick against the pricks! These, my brethren, are some of the ways Satan takes, in is temptations, to bring you from Christ. Many more might be named; but these are sufficient, I hope, to keep you on your guard, against all that the enemy can do to hinder you from coming to Christ.
IV. I come to show you, how earnest you ought to be with Jesus Christ, either not to suffer you to be led into temptations, or to preserve you under them.
And here, my dear brethren, let me beseech you to go to Jesus Christ; tell him, how you are assaulted by the evil one, who lies in wait for your souls; tell him, you are not able to master him, in your own strength; beg his assistance, and you shall find him ready to help you; ready to assist you, and to be your Guide, your Comforter, your Savior, your All; He will give you strength to resist the fiery darts of the devil; and, therefore, you can no where find one so proper to relieve you, as Jesus Christ; he knows what it is to be tempted; he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, and he will give you the assistance of his Spirit, to resist the evil one, and then he will fly from you. In Christ Jesus you shall have the strength you stand in need of, the devil shall have no power; therefore fear not, for in the name of the Lord we shall overcome all our spiritual Amalekites. Let the devil and his agents rage, let them breathe out threatenings, yes, let them breathe out slaughters, yet we can rejoice in this, that Jesus Christ hath them in his power, they shall go no farther than he permits them; they may rage, they may rage horribly, but they can go no farther, until they have got more power from on high.
If they could do us what mischief they would, very few of us should be permitted to see our habitations any more; but, blessed be God, we can commit ourselves to his protection; he has been our protector hitherto, he will be so still. Then earnestly entreat of the Lord to support you under those temptations, which the devil may assault you with; he is a powerful adversary, he is a cunning one too; he would be too hard for us, unless we have the strength of Christ to be with us. But let us be looking up unto Jesus, that he would send his Spirit into our hearts, and keep us from falling. O my dear brethren in Christ Jesus, how stands it now between God and your souls? Is Jesus altogether lovely to your souls? Is he precious unto you? I am sure, if you have not gone back from Christ, he will not from you; he will root out the accursed things of this world, and dwell in your hearts. You are candidates for heaven; and will you mind earth ? What are all the pleasures of earth, without an interest in the Lord Jesus Christ? And one smile from him is more to be desired than rubies, yea more than the whole world.
O you who have found Jesus Christ assisting you, and supporting you under all the temptations of this life, will you forsake him? Have you not found him a gracious master? Is he not the chiefest of ten thousand, and altogether lovely? Now you see a form and comeliness in Christ, which you never saw before. O! how do you and I wish we had known Jesus sooner, and that we had more of his love; it is condescending love, it is amazing, it is forgiving love, it is dying love, it is exalted and interceding love, and it is glorified love. Methinks when I am talking of the love of Jesus Christ, who loved me before I love him; he saw us polluted in blood, full of sores, a slave to sin, to death and hell, running to destruction, then he passed by me, and said unto my soul, "Live;" he snatched me as a brand plucked from the burning. It was love that saved me, it was all of the free grace of God, and that only. The little experience I have had of this love, makes me amazed at the condescension, the love, and mercifulness of the blessed Jesus, that he should have mercy upon such a wretch. O, my brethren, the kingdom of God is within me, and this fills me so full of love, that I would not be in my natural state again, not for millions of millions of worlds; I long to be with Jesus, to live with the Lord that bought me, to live forever with the Lamb that was slain, and to sing Hallelujah's unto him. Eternity itself will be too short to set forth the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. I cannot, indeed I cannot forbear speaking again, and again, and again, of the Lord Jesus.
And if there are any here who are strangers to this love of the Lord Jesus Christ, do not despair; come, come unto Christ, and he will have mercy upon you, he will pardon all your sins, he will heal all your backslidings, he will love you freely, and take you to be with himself.. Come therefore, O my guilty brethren, unto Jesus, and you shall find rest for your souls. You need not fear, you need not despair, when God has had mercy upon such a wretch as I; and he will save you also, if you will come unto him by faith.
Why do ye delay? What! Do you say, you are poor, and therefore ashamed to come? It is not your poverty that Christ mindeth; come in all your rags, in all your pollution, and he will save you. Do not depend upon any thing but the blood of Jesus Christ; do not stand out an hour longer, but give your hearts to Christ, give him the firstlings of the flock; come unto him now, lest he should cut you off before you are prepared, and your soul be sent to that pit from whence there is no redemption.
Do not waver, but give him that which he desires, your hearts; it is the heart the Lord Jesus Christ wanteth; and when you have an inward principle wrought in your hearts by this same Jesus, then you will feel the sweetness and pleasure of communion with God. O consider, my brethren, the love of the Lord Jesus Christ, in dying for you; and are you resolved to slight his dying love? Your sins brought Christ from heaven, and I humbly pray to the Lord that they may not be a means of sending you to hell. What language will make you leave your sins and come to Christ? O that I did but know! And that it lay in my power to give you this grace; not one of you, not the greatest scoffer here should go hence before he was changed from a natural to a spiritual life; then, then we would rejoice and take sweet council together; but all this is not in my power; but I tell you where you may have it, even of the Lord Jesus; he will give it to you, if you ask it of him, for he has told us, "Ask, and you shall receive;" therefore ask of him, and if you are repulsed again and again, entreat him more, and he will be unto you as he was to the poor Syrophoenician woman, who came to Christ on account of her daughter; and is she was so importunate to him for a body, how much more should we be solicitous for our souls? If you seek to him in faith, his answer will be to you as it was to her, "Thy faith hath saved thee, be it as thou wouldest have it."
O, do not forsake the seeking of the Lord; do not, I beseech you, neglect the opportunities which may be offered to you, for the salvation of your souls; forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, to build up and confirm and strengthen those who are weak in faith; to convince sinners, that they may feel the power of God pricking them in their hearts, and make them cry out, "What must we do to be saved?"
The devil and his agents have their clubs of reveling, and their societies of drunkenness; they are not ashamed to be seen and heard doing the devil their master's works; they are not ashamed to proclaim him; and sure you are not ashamed of the Lord Jesus Christ; you dare proclaim that Jesus, who died that you might live, and who will own you before his Father and all the holy angels; Therefore, dare to be singularly good; be not afraid of the face of man; let not all the threats of the men of this world move you; what is the loss of all the grandeur, or pleasure, or reputation of this life, compared to the loss of heaven, of Christ and of your souls? And as for the reproaches of the world, do not mind them; when they revile you, never, never revile again; do not answer railing with railing; but let love, kindness, meekness, patience, long-suffering, be found in you, as they were in the blessed Jesus; therefore, I beseech you, do not neglect the frequent coming together, and telling each other, what great things Jesus Christ hath done for your souls.
I do not now, as the Pharisees say I do, encourage you to leave your lawful callings, and your business, in which God, by his providence, hath placed you; for you have two callings, the one a general, and the other a special one; it is your duty to regard your families, and if you neglect them out of any pretense whatever, as going to church or in societies, you are out of the way of your duty, and offering that to God which he commanded you not. But then, my brethren, you are to take care that the things of this life do not hinder the preparing for that which is to come; let not the business of the world make you unmindful of your souls; but in all your moral actions, in the business of life, let all be done with a view to the glory of God, and the salvation of your souls.
The nigh draws on, and obliges me to hasten to a conclusion; though, methinks, I could speak until my tongue clave to the roof of my mouth, yes, until I could speak no more, if it was to save your souls from the paws of him who seeketh to devour you.
Therefore let me beseech you, in all love and compassion; Consider, you, who are Pharisees; you, who will not come to Christ, but are trusting to yourselves for righteousness; who think, because you lead civil, honest, decent lives, all will go well at last; but let me tell you, O ye Pharisees, that harlots, murderers, and thieves, shall enter the kingdom of God before you. Do not flatter yourselves of being in the way to heaven, when you are in the broad way to hell; but if you will throw away your righteousness and come to Christ, and be contented to let Jesus Christ do all for you, and in you, then Christ is willing to be your Savior; but if you bring your good works with you, and think to be justified on the account of them, you may seek to be justified by them forever, and never be justified; no, it is only the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanseth us from the filth and pollution of all our sins; and you must be sanctified before you are justified. As for good works, we are justified before God without any respect to them, either past, present, or to come: when w are justified, good works will follow our justification, for we can do no good works, until we are cleansed of our pollution, by the sanctification of the Spirit of God.
O ye scoffers, come and see this Jesus, this Lord of glory whom you have despised; and if you will but come to Christ, he will be willing to receive you, notwithstanding all the persecution you have used towards his members; However, if you are resolved to persist in your obstinacy, remember, salvation was offered to you, that Christ and free grace were proposed; but you refused to accept of either, and therefore your blood will be required at your own hands.
I shall only say this unto you, that however you may despise either me or my ministry, I shall not regard it, but shall frequently show you your danger, and propose to you the remedy; and shall earnestly pity and pray for you, that God would show you your error, and bring you home into his sheepfold, that you, from ravenous lions, may become peaceful lambs.
And as for you, O my brethren, who desire to choose Christ for you Lord, and to experience his power upon your souls, and as you do not find your desires and prayers answered; go on, and Christ will manifest himself unto you, as he does not unto the world; you shall be made to see and feel this love of Jesus upon your souls; you shall have a witness in your own breast, that you are the Lord's; therefore, do not fear, the Lord Jesus Christ will gather you with his elect, when he comes at that great day of accounts, to judge every one according to the deeds done in the body, whether they be good, or whether they be evil; and, O that the thought of answering to God for all our actions, would make us more mindful about the consequences that will attend it.
And now let me address all of you, high and low, rich and poor, one with another, to accept of mercy and grace while it is offered to you; Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation; and will you not accept it, now it is offered unto you? Do not stand out one moment longer; but come and accept of Jesus Christ in his own way, and then you shall be taken up at the last day, and be with him forever and ever; and sure this should make you desirous of being with that Jesus who has done so much for you, and is not interceding for you, and preparing mansions for you; where may we all arrive and sit down with Jesus to all eternity!
It is important that one understands the phenomenon of apostatising, or backsliding, as every believer should be able to identify and counter this backward course in his or her spiritual life whenever it occurs. If you wish to determine the objective truth about spiritual backsliding you should consult the Bible and not biased or erroneous church dogma. Some churches, mostly in the Wesleyan tradition, agree to the possibility of backsliding while others, mostly Calvinistic and Lutheran churches, reject the possibility of apostatising and falling from grace. What does the Bible teach?
A Christian’s spiritual life is not a static and unchangeable condition. You either make progress or you stagnate and start declining. The biblical injunction is that you must grow up spiritually to the mature man or woman in Christ (Eph. 4:13-14; Heb. 5:12 to 6:1). Peter says: “You therefore, beloved, since you know these things beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away by the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:17-18).
In a warm and loving style, Peter closes his epistle with a word of warning and a word of encouragement. Profs. Walvoord & Zuck (The Bible Knowledge Commentary) say: “The words since you know these things beforehand translate one Greek word (proginoskontes) from which comes the English word prognosis. When a medical prognosis is made, a patient is better able to prepare himself for what is ahead and, if possible, to correct himself. When a doctor says, ‘If you continue to eat as much as you do now, you will have serious heart problems in a few years,’ the patient knows beforehand and can therefore change his life in accordance with the information he has. Peter then warned, ‘Beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away by the error of the wicked.’ The verb led away emphasises a group movement. False teachers are not satisfied with ambushing one or two, now and then, here and there; they want to sweep large groups of people away from the correct doctrine of Christ. Those who keep company with such people are in danger of being led astray (translated as stumble in 2 Pet. 1:10 and fallen in Gal. 5:4).”
If you do not grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, then even the knowledge that you do have will become eroded over time and expose you to deception. The Bible warns us against spiritual stagnation as that is the opposite of growing in grace and holiness: “Pursue… holiness… looking diligently lest anyone should fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up should cause trouble, and by this many people become defiled” (Heb. 12:14-15).
It is conspicuous that people who backslide become bitter and critical, even judgemental, of others. In their conversations they instil these negative thoughts in other people and weaken them spiritually. Some of the backsliders even become bitter towards God because He allegedly allowed certain things to happen to them. But they fail to blame their own carnality for their afflictions, or the devil who tempted them. They see themselves as innocent martyrs and also promote feelings of unbelief and doubt among the Christians who exhorted them.
The basic cause of apostatising is sin. Many Christians do not resist sin. Because of their attitude of compromise, they expose themselves to sin and are consequently drawn away from the Lord. “Do not be deceived: evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor. 15:33). Jesus said, “Sin will be rampant everywhere and will cool the love of many” (Matt. 24:12 Living Bible).
The call to backsliders is that they should forsake the dangerous way of sin and return to the Lord. If they don’t do it they may lapse into a state of rebellion which will induce the Lord to take His Holy Spirit from them, thereby terminating His relationship with them. The Lord Jesus said to the congregation in Ephesus: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4-5). The lampstand is the container in which is oil is poured to keep the lamp burning. That symbolises the work of the Holy Spirit. When the lampstand is removed, total darkness sets in.
The same result of wilful sin occurred in the Old Testament: “But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die” (Ezek. 18:24).
That is the tragic end of perpetual backsliding. The Lord said of Israel: “Will they fall and not rise? Will one turn away and not return? Why then has this people slidden back, Jerusalem in a perpetual backsliding? They hold fast to deceit, they refuse to return” (Jer. 8:4-5). They were often called to repentance from this fallen state: “Return, backsliding Israel, says the Lord, and I will not cause My anger to fall on you; for I am merciful” (Jer. 3:12). “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely… they shall be revived” (Hos. 14:4,7).
People who are guilty of continuous sin and worldliness will inevitably backslide further. If you are on this way you will undermine and eventually destroy your spiritual life. Initially, you only cool down and become a backslidden Christian, but eventually you may depart from the faith and fall from grace if you don’t repent in time.
Paul seriously warned against this possibility: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:12-13).
It is obvious that these “brethren” must watch and guard against yielding to sin. If they continuously indulge in sin they will depart from the living God and get an evil and unbelieving heart. Should they die in that state they will certainly open their eyes in hell. They have to repent anew if they wish to restore their broken relationship with God.
An example of extreme backsliding is found in the parable of the lost son. He wilfully broke his relationship with his father because of his desire to live a sinful life in the world. There he lived a prodigal life and spent his money on prostitutes (Luke 15:13,30).
Fortunately, this young man came to his senses while living as a sinner. He longed to return to his father and to restore his broken relationship with him. He was prepared to subject himself unconditionally to his father’s authority, to the point of even becoming a humble and unworthy servant in his father’s house.
The lost son knew that he has gravely sinned, and that his sin has separated him from his father. He resolved to break with his sinful life by completely forsaking it: “I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you” (Luke 15:18). His father heartily forgave him and fully restored him. From this parable we learn that there is definitely grace to backsliders – even if they have again become slaves of sin, strayed very far form God and fell from grace.
Do not make the mistake of justifying the prodigal son in his backslidden state by assuming that he can never become lost because he will always, under all circumstances, be the son of his father. The father himself said to the older son: “Your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found” (Luke 15:32). In his backslidden state the son was not physically dead, but spiritually. He was described as “lost” and “dead” but was revived from his spiritual deadness.
The Greek word for revive (anazao) literally means to live again. The Strong’s concordance and dictionary renders its meaning “to recover life; live again; revive.” This word can only apply to a person who was alive, then died, and was afterwards restored to life. The son was alive while in his father’s house, then died spiritually after indulging in a life of sin and thus became lost, but was again made spiritually alive when he returned to his father.
Some people never return from their lost state and perish. That happened to king Saul. The Bible says: “But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul” (1 Sam. 16:14; cf. 1 Sam. 18:12). Shortly before his death Saul consulted a medium to bring up the spirit of Samuel. Saul said to Samuel: “I am deeply distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God has departed from me and does not answer me any longer.” Then Samuel said: “Why then do you ask me, seeing the Lord has departed from you and has become your enemy?” (1 Sam. 28:15-16).
In the New Testament, we read about Demas who was a backslider. It is nowhere stated that he returned to the Lord. Paul said: “For Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). His problem was the same as that of the lost son, who was tempted and lured away by the evil pleasures of the world.
Our spiritual allegiance and moral lives can change, depending on the spiritual kingdom of which we are followers. The unsaved priests and scribes in Israel had the devil as father (John 8:44). However, many of them were born again later and thus became children of God (Acts 6:7). But such people still have their free will; they can yield to temptations and doctrines of demons and consequently backslide to the point where they depart from the faith and become spiritually lost and dead (1 Tim. 4:1; Gal. 5:4). Please note that only believers can depart from the faith. They will then have lost their eternal security as that is only in Christ, and we only have it as long as we abide in Him. Our tie with Christ need not be broken but it can be broken by us.
It is a joyous occasion when a backslider immediately responds to admonitions to return to the Lord and confess his sins. King David has seriously apostatised when he committed murder and adultery. But he immediately humbled himself before the Lord when he was reproached because of his sins. He prayed: “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight… Purge me… and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow… Blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, o God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me wit a generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You” (Ps. 51:4,7,9-13).
David realised that there was a definite possibility of God taking His Holy Spirit away from him, but because of his repentance it did not happen. God also gave David the assurance that He would not depart from his son, Solomon, as He has departed from Saul: “My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you” (2 Sam. 7:15). Solomon was a backslider who worshipped idols after serving the Lord for many years (1 Kings 11:4-10).
The Bible clearly warns against doctrinal decline. People who depart from the truth are playing in Satan’s hands as they believe in lies and false interpretations of Scriptural truths: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).
Such people abandon the true faith and embrace false teachings. That amounts to rejecting the true doctrine of salvation based upon the atoning death of the Lord Jesus. In modern times, there are many theologians who no longer believe in the virgin birth, messiahship, and deity of the Lord Jesus. Preachers who are proclaiming these and other heresies, are spiritually lost and also draw many people with them on the way of deception. Peter refers to preachers who were formerly saved (bought by the Lord) but later denied Christ for who He really is. Backslidden preachers also attack and discredit evangelical believers who still hold to the truth:
“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Pet. 2:1-2).
Some of the most serious warnings in the Bible are addressed to false preachers who once preached the truth but then turned their backs on these truths: “They have forsaken the right way and gone astray… For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Pet. 2:15,20-21).
Paul warned an entire congregation that was on the verge of denying the atoning death of Jesus by regarding it as insufficient for salvation. They decided to also observe the law and circumcision: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
The Word of the Lord is eternal (Luke 21:33), unchangeable (Deut. 4:2) and absolutely true (John 17:17). A person who is so presumptuous as to change God’s Word that was written by holy men (2 Pet. 1:21; 2 Tim. 3:16), injures the honour of God who is the source of all truth. Even if such a person had a Christian testimony earlier, his name will be blotted out from the book of life: “If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the book of life” (Rev. 22:18-19; cf. Deut. 4:2).
However, if we remain true to the Lord and His Word, He will never take away our names from the book of life (Rev. 3:5). Unfortunately, not all Christians are overcomers. Some of them commit treason against the Lord and His infallible Word, thereby bowing the knee to Baal.
Although most backsliders, including those who fell from grace, can again return to the Lord and be spiritually restored, there are also those who can never be restored to life. They are the ones who committed spiritual high treason against the King and Saviour by denying Him and thereby despising and rejecting His saving grace. They have not only, like the lost son, been overcome by sin, temptations and worldliness, but have explicitly defamed and rejected the Lord.
Please note that only Christians can commit spiritual high treason. You must first be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven before you can revolt against the King whom you served, and reject His ownership on your life. The Bible says: “It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:4-6).
These people consciously reject Christ and publicly put Him to shame. In so doing they crucify Him again and thereby close the door to restoration because they have rejected the only One who can save them: “For if we sin wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgement, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:26-29).
The person guilty of this offence has been sanctified by the blood of Christ – that is clearly stated – but in spite of this fact he tramples the Son of God underfoot, counts His blood a common thing and insults the Holy Spirit. This amounts to an outright rejection of the Mediator of the New Testament. Israelites who committed high treason against Moses, the mediator of the Old Testament, were summarily executed. How much worse punishment will he receive who wilfully commits high treason against Jesus Christ?
Paul repeated this serious warning to the Hebrew believers: “Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man will see the Lord: looking diligently lest anyone should fall short of the grace of God; lest any roof of bitterness springing up should cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright” (Heb. 12:14-16).
Profs. Walvoord & Zuck (Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 810-811) say: “Peace with all men as well as personal holiness must be vigorously sought since without holiness no one will see the Lord. Since no sin can stand in God’s presence, Christians must – and will be – sinless when they see the Lord (cf. 1 John 3:2). That realisation offers motivation for pursuing holiness here and now. But the author may also have had in mind the thought that one’s perception of God even now is conditioned by his real measure of holiness (Matt. 5:8). As a grim reminder of what can happen among believers, the writer warned that one who misses the grace of God may become like a bitter root whose infidelity to God affects others. Here the author had in mind Deuteronomy 29:18 where an Old Covenant apostate was called a root that produces bitter poison: ‘so that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness.’ Such a person would be godless (profane, unhallowed, desecrated) like Esau, Jacob’s brother, whose loose and profane character led him to sell his inheritance rights as the oldest son for the temporary gratification of a single meal. He warned the readers not to yield to transitory pressures and forfeit their inheritances. If some did, they would ultimately regret the foolish step and might find their inheritance privileges irrevocably lost as were Esau’s. This would of course be true of one who ended his Christian experience in a state of apostasy, which the writer had continually warned against.”
Slander against the Holy Spirit is also an unpardonable sin as such a person resists, slanders, and drives off the only Spirit who can convict him of sin: “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men” (Matt. 12:31). People who have insulted the Holy Spirit by acting blasphemously towards Him, will never again be convicted of their sin and can therefore not repent and be saved.
What about the Calvinistic doctrine of eternal security in the light of what has been said above? This doctrine leans strongly on the following statement of the Lord Jesus: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. An I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28).
However, the assurance given in this Scripture is that no external power will snatch us from the hand of the Lord. He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able, so we can bear it (1 Cor. 10:13). The devil cannot snatch us from the hand of the Lord unless we yield to his temptations by wilful sinning. The possibility is always there that we can, of our own accord, become unfaithful and stray from the Lord.
The condition of the promise in John 10:27-28 is that we must keep on listening to the Lord and following Him. If we fail to do that we can certainly expect problems. Jesus said: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me… If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:4,6).
If we abide in Him, as He in us, then we will never perish. But what happens if we become unfaithful to Christ and depart from the truth of His Word? Then we can apostatise (become spiritually withered), fall from grace (cast out as a branch) and perish (be thrown into the fire). We still have a free will, and because of that we can take wrong decisions and sin. We will always have to bear the consequences of what we do.
Many of the holy angels in heaven sinned and were cast out of heaven (2 Pet. 2:4). Because they consciously and stubbornly committed treason against God they and their leader, Lucifer, can never be restored to the favour of God. They are forever fallen angels.
Likewise, human beings also have the ability to turn against God. They can grieve the Holy Spirit and even resist and quench Him (Acts 7:51; Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19). The incorruptible seed through which they are saved, can be choked by the thorns of sin in their lives (Matt. 13:7,22). When that happens, they will not have been snatched from God’s hand by someone else, but decided themselves to leave the narrow way and to make room for the devil in their lives, thereby rejoining the broad way of compromise, sin and worldliness.
Every Christian has the obligation to persevere on the way of the Lord to the end, and never to deviate from it: “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Heb. 3:14; cf. Heb. 3:6). That clearly means that we must not abandon our faith in Christ, as some believers do. Paul exhorted Timothy to keep a fast hold of faith throughout his life in order to have “faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck” (1 Tim. 1:19). It is not necessary to be spiritually deceived and become shipwrecked, but then we must abide in Christ and observe His Word. If we deviate from the way of truth, spiritual stumbling and ultimate shipwreck awaits us. Jesus Christ is able to keep us from stumbling, and to present us faultless before the presence of His glory if we trust Him to do it (Jude v.24).
A person cannot live as he likes, lapse into the sin and unbelief of Hebrews 3:12-13, and deceive himself that he is still on his way to heaven! We must hold fast to the Lord and His Word. The perseverance of the saints demands that they diligently follow Christ. They must become strong in the Lord and in the power of His might, and put on the whole armour of God that they may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Eph. 6:10-11). Failing to do this, Christians might lose their vigilance and be caught unawares by Satan.
When brethren fall into false teaching they must be edified, “in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:25-26). Eternal security and continued deliverance from satanic deception is only enjoyed by those who abide in Christ and in the truth of His Word.
The Calvinist, Arthur Pink, made the following sober remarks on the promise in John 10:27-28, which is taken by many of his fellow Calvinists as an assurance of unconditional eternal security: “There is a deadly and damnable heresy being widely propagated today to the effect that, if a sinner accepts Christ as his personal Saviour, no matter how he lives afterwards, he cannot perish. That is a satanic lie, for it is at direct variance with the teaching of the Word of Truth. Something more than believing in Christ is necessary to ensure the soul’s reaching heaven. ‘If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed’ (John 8:31). The Amplified Bible says: ‘If you abide in My Word – hold fast to My teachings and live in accordance with them – you are truly My disciples.’
“’My sheep,’ said Christ, ‘hear [heed, obey] My voice… and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they [those who plainly evidence themselves to be of His sheep by yielding to His authority and following the example which He has left them – and none others] shall never perish’ (John 10:27-28). It is not honest to generalise the promise of verse 28, as it must be restricted to the characters described in verse 27! These conditions are confirmed by other Scriptures. Paul says that through His death Christ will present us holy, blameless and irreproachable in His sight, ‘if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel’ (Col. 1:22-23).
‘Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised it is faithful’ (Heb. 10:23). There is a very real need to pray for persevering grace, both for ourselves and for our brethren” (end of quotation).
Arthur Pink was severely criticised by other Calvinists for defining perseverance of the saints in such a way that it places a responsibility on believers to diligently keep on following the Lord to the end. According to them, a Christian will go to heaven even if he backslides and falls into sin. According to their unbiblical teaching, imputed righteousness relieves you from all human efforts to live a holy and worthy life. However, Paul said that although he, as a Christian, competed in the spiritual race, that did not guarantee him a victorious finish. He held out the possibility that even he could be disqualified: “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).
The eternal security that the Lord Jesus offers us is conditional. We need to repent, confess our sins and accept the Lord Jesus as our Saviour to become born again children of God. After our salvation we must live holy, dedicated lives by always remaining faithful to Christ. If we don’t persevere on the way of holiness and true discipleship there is a very real danger of being deceived by Satan and ending up as backsliders. Please consider the following examples:
Corinth: Paul was deeply disappointed by the carnal members of the congregation in Corinth (1 Cor. 3:1-3), who had no discernment and easily fell prey to Satan’s deception: “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I might present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you put up with it well” (2 Cor. 11:2-4). False teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ were presented under the influence of deceiving spirits, and most of the church members naively accepted it.
Ephesus: The Ephesians received stern warnings from Paul, but evidently did not heed them: “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29-30). A generation later, the entire congregation was backslidden and were called to repentance by Christ (Rev. 2:4-5).
Galatia: The Galatians have backslidden into a legalistic form of religion in which Christ’s work of atonement was not regarded as sufficient for salvation. Paul strongly reprimanded them for going backwards: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:1-3). They ended up as backslidden, carnal believers who were at risk of falling from grace (Gal. 5:4).
Hebrew believers: Many of the Hebrew Christians lost their faith because of unbelief and sin (Heb. 3:12-13). Others were nominal believers without a true faith as they did not really put their trust in the gospel message (Heb. 4:1-2). The Messiah reproved them for being hypocrites without changed hearts and a living relationship with God, as they only observed the traditions of men (Matt. 15:7-9; Mark 7:8-9). Even those who were truly saved, have stagnated and became spiritually backslidden; consequently, they suffered from a lack of spiritual growth (Heb. 5:12-13). Because of this they remained unsure of their salvation, and repented time and again without growing up to spiritual maturity (Heb. 6:1).
Pergamos: The compromise that the church in Pergamos made with the secular world has inevitably given rise to disloyalty and infidelity among members. The Lord refers to their compromise as “the doctrine of Balaam who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality” (Rev. 2:14). Many of the modern churches have also been lured into various practices of fornication with the non-Christian religions, as well as moral impurity.
Thyatira: The church in Thyatira was characterised by false teachings and sexual immorality. Many of the modern churches are equally guilty of these sins as false teachings are proliferating, while sexual immorality (including homosexuality) is openly tolerated and even accepted. Churches who share these characteristics have backslidden so far that they have fallen from grace. They will miss the rapture and end up in the tribulation period as worshippers of the Antichrist (Rev. 2:20-22).
Sardis: The church in Sardis only had a form of godliness from which they had to repent. Jesus said: “You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Rev. 3:1). They knew nothing of being regenerated and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Laodicea: The smug and lukewarm church of Laodicea is also typical of many of the end time churches. Satisfied with their outward form of godliness, they continue on a course of formal worship while being unaware of their spiritual poverty. In spite of their prosperity and well-organised activities, Christ is not worshipped with a sincere heart. The Lord dissociates Himself from such a man-made religion that aims only at wealth and outward appearance (Rev. 3:16-17; cf. 1 Tim. 6:7-12). They confess the Name of the Lord with their lips, but in their hearts they are full of themselves and glory in their own excellence.
The wealth that features so prominently in Laodicean churches amounts to more than mere material possessions. It also refers to the intellectual achievements of modern man, and his aptitude for psychological solutions to his problems. Enchanted with his self-righteousness, he is reluctant to acknowledge his dependence upon God, and also shuns the gospel of the cross and the shed blood of Christ to atone for our sins. Laodicea means human rights and clearly reflects the humanistic nature of this church. As an institution, the church is controlled by man and is utilised as an instrument for the creation of a more humanistic (man-centred) society. The result is that the whole institution reflects a mere form of religion. Man becomes his own god, and he preaches a man-made prosperity gospel based on the accumulation of secular wealth and humanistic achievements.
Laodicea portrays the image of rational man without faith. He argues everything with his mind. Consequently, his religion is limited to an intellectual knowledge of the Bible. The real experience of faith, involving the acceptance of God’s promise of a rebirth, is foreign to him. With his allegorical and relativistic interpretation of the Bible, he can bypass these basic spiritual demands and teach his followers to do the same. This approach leads to the establishment of a nominal Christianity and churches that evaluate themselves solely according to human standards. In terms of their academic parameters they regard themselves as exceptionally good. Self-deception of this nature has very serious consequences as people with self-imposed righteousness without a spiritual rebirth do not belong to the Lord.
The Lord Jesus issued the following warnings to nominal and backslidden churches:
· The lampstand of churches that only have a form of godliness will be removed by Him, which means that He will take His Holy Spirit from them (Rev. 2:5).
· Churches that compromised with the world will be judged by the Word of God because they were untrue to the living Word, Jesus Christ (Rev. 2:16).
· Backslidden churches that accepted doctrines of demons will end up in the great tribulation unless they repent of their deeds (Rev. 2:22).
· The Lord Jesus says that He withdraws Himself completely from churches that are characterised by spiritual lukewarmness because of materialism and self-justification (Rev. 3:16-17).
True Christians must fulfil their commission on earth while enduring relentless attacks from a world that lies under the sway of the Wicked One, and also from false churches that only have a form of godliness. This is a superhuman assignment that cannot be executed without the gracious and enabling power of the Holy Spirit and also not without a clear disposition of perseverance on the narrow way of the Lord until He comes again. In spite of their little strength in this dispensation (Rev. 3:8), true disciples of Jesus Christ will be fed with heavenly manna and be strengthened for the struggle.
We should never give up because of fierce opposition by withdrawing from “the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). Observe the example of Jesus: “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin” (Heb. 12:3-4).
“For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:36-39).
Are you an overcomer who perseveres on the way of the Lord? Jesus Christ said: “Behold, I come quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Rev. 3:11). In the light of His sudden coming, we are exhorted to hold fast what we have, lest our crown be robbed from us by the enemy. Everyone who overcomes will be a pillar in the temple of God (Rev. 3:12), which is symbolic of the permanent place in heaven of true believers who overcame.
Before being exiled to Patmos, John warned the believers against backsliding and losing their reward in heaven: “Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward” (2 John v.8). We effectively have to resist false doctrines and moral corruption if we wish to remain true to the doctrine of Christ.
“Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 John v.9). Profs. Walvoord & Zuck (The Bible Knowledge Commentary) say the following on this Scripture: “These words suggest strongly that the apostle was thinking here of defection from the truth by those who had once held to it. The word ‘continue’ (Greek meno) has been used 23 times in 1 John in reference to the ‘abiding’ life. A person who does not continue in a thing has evidently once been in it. The New Testament writers were realists about the possibility of true Christians falling prey to heresy and warned about it, particularly in the book Hebrews. John had just cautioned his readers about possible loss of reward (v.8). They were thus now cautioned not to overstep the boundaries of sound doctrine, but to remain where they were, and to abide (continue) in the teaching about Christ. To deviate from the truth is to leave God behind. God is not with a person who does so. What such a person does, he does without God.”
How should one guard against the possibility of apostatising? Carnality is the breeding-ground for backsliding. If your life is not controlled by the Holy Spirit, you are inevitably under the control of the flesh (your old human nature) and will be a marginal Christian. Spiritual stagnation sets in because the uncrucified flesh blocks any form of growth: “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:17).
The Galatians were a congregation that made a good start but they have subsequently backslidden to a state of carnality in which they trusted the flesh (Gal. 3:1-3). The Corinthians lapsed into a similar state (1 Cor. 3:1-3). The solution to this problem is very clear: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).
Why is it so dangerous to live under the domination of the flesh as a backslider? “If you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). The Amplified Bible says: “If you live according to the dictates of the flesh you will surely die. But if through the power of the Holy Spirit you are habitually putting to death the evil deeds prompted by the body, you shall really and genuinely live forever.” There is only one life worthy of living, and that is the Spirit-led life of increasing holiness. That life demands the putting off of the old nature which is intent on pulling us down to the level of our sinful past:
“This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord… that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:17,22-24; cf. Rom. 12:1-2).
Christians who do not deny themselves (their old nature) and take up their cross by which the world has been crucified to them, and they to the world, cannot be true disciples of the Lord Jesus (Luke 14:27; Gal. 6:14). Such believers are, because of their own lack of commitment, candidates for backsliding. Deal with those things which are causing problems in your life: put them off while more completely putting on the new life in Christ Jesus (Col. 3:1-17).
Serve the Lord with your whole heart, and never look back or turn back after you put your hand to the plough (Luke 9:62). Be always on the alert for spiritual deception. This was the first warning of the Lord Jesus in His Olivet discourse: “Take heed that no one deceives you” (Matt. 24:4). We are often warned that spiritual deception will be the cause of widespread backsliding among believers in the end time. Many churches and individuals will be influenced and even completely dominated by a satanic spirit of deception, spearheaded by the devil as an “angel of light” who will pretend to be a messenger of God to empower Christian groups with new fads, a vision for world domination, and mighty signs and wonders (Matt. 24:24; 2 Cor. 11:3-4,13-15; 2 Thess. 2:3,9-10; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:3-4).