THE BACKSLIDER RESTORED.
Through all my fainting heart
His secret vigour spread;
To me his strength he did impart,
And raised my drooping head.
Now will I raise my voice,
In loud and cheerful song ;
With all the saints will I rejoice,
Who to his courts belong.
With them the path I’ll trace,
Which leads to his abode ;
With them I’ll sing redeeming grace,
Along the joyful road.
I MARVEL THAT YE ARE SO SOON REMOVED FROM IIIM THAT CALLED YOU INTO THE GRACE OF CHRIST UNTO ANOTHER GOSPEL: ‘WHICH IS NOT ANOTHER; BUT THERE BE SOME THAT TROUBLE YOU, AND WOULD PERVERT THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. Galatians 1:6, 7.
We left our Pilgrim quaking with fear at the mount that burned with fire. He had been seduced from the right way by the artful representations of Worldly-Wisdom. This man had persuaded him to seek rest and deliverance from his burden by going round to Mount Sinai. We have seen how woefully he was disappointed in his expectation. Instead of finding rest and ease, he found nothing but blackness and darkness, and fire, and storm, and tempest, in the way he went. How was he delivered from this perilous situation? It was by the arrival, and plain and faithful dealing, of his true friend, Evangelist. We remember the manner in which the apostle Paul acted to the Galatians, after they had been seduced by false teachers from the gospel which he had taught them. Thus did Evangelist act to our erring Pilgrim. He addressed him in the very words which we have selected as the groundwork of the present discourse: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.”
The instructive interview between Evangelist and Christian will form the entire subject of this lecture. And here there are several particulars that demand our attention. How seasonable was the arrival of Evangelist at such a time ; how skilfully did he probe the backslider ; how tenderly did he comfort him when ready to faint; how wisely he admonished him; how strongly he confirmed his words; and how happily he succeeded in restoring him into the right way! May the consideration of these particulars prove to us a word in season.
(1.) How seasonable was the arrival of Evangelist at such a time. In the midst of his difficulties, when Christian was on the very verge of despair, trembling and astonished, not knowing what to do, or where to turn, he beheld a man advancing towards him, and recognised soon the features of his friend Evangelist. This sight caused the poor backslider to blush for shame. He recollected his disobedience to the plain direction which would have saved him from all his present terror and distress. He is speechless when Evangehst stands before him, and inquires, with a severe countenance; “What doest thou here?” Alas, he feels that he has nothing to do here, and that he is now out of the way. The further questions of Evangelist are very pointed. “Art not thou,” he said, ” the man that I found crying without the walls of the city of Destruction? Did I not direct thee to the Wicket-Gate? How is it that thou hast so quickly started and turned aside from the path which I pointed out to thee? Thou art no longer now in the road to the Celestial City.” In reply to these questions, the seduced Pilgrim manifests the sincerity of a penitent, by a frank avowal of his sin, and a simple declaration of the steps by which he had been drawn into it. He recounts his meeting with Worldly-Wisdom, repeats the advice and the counsel which that man had given, and concludes by saying, ” so, I believed him, and turned out of that way into this, if haply I might be eased of my burden. But when I came to this place, and beheld things as ihey are, I stopped for fear of danger; and at this moment I know not what to do.”
There is much, dear brethren, for our instruction and encouragement in this seasonable meeting. In this way the Lord often graciously interposes on behalf of such as are in distress and perplexity about their souls. He seasonably raises up for them, and providentially brings near to them, pastors according to his own heart, ministers skilful in the word of righteousness, and able to do the work of an evangelist. By the ministry of his own word, in the mouth of such as these, he speaks to the troubled soul a word in season, and shows him the way wherein he should go. The poor wanderer often finds his deepest distress to be the dawn of deliverance; and in the mount the Lord is seen. But true comfort frequently comes in a very uncomfortable form. Those who are really in earnest about salvation, sometimes look with fear and suspicion, or even with prejudice, upon those who, in the providence of God, are the appointed instruments for guiding their feet into the way of peace, and establishing them in the true faith of Christ. Think of the disciples, when, in the midst of their distress, they saw Jesus walking towards them on the sea. At the first they supposed it had been a spirit, and they cried out with fear. But how sweetly did comfort dawn upon their sorrowful hearts, as soon as they had received him into the ship ; and immediately there was a great calm. Thus it is with the convinced sinner, when he meets with the ambassador of Christ, whose admonitions he has disobeyed. But if there be true sincerity, as there is in every genuine penitent, the interview that opened with fear and shame, shall end with comfort and satisfaction. Remember, however, that this sincerity must be shown by a free confession of our sin; and whoever may have been our seducers, or however peculiar may have been our circumstances, we must take the full share of blame upon ourselves, and not endeavour to throw it upon others. We must not hide our transgression like Adam. ” He that covereth his sins shall not prosper, but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”
(3.) Consider next, how skilfully did Evangelist probe the wounds of the erring Pilgrim. He referred to his book. All the instructions of Evangelist were taken from the book. By two suitable passages from it, he showed the sin and the danger of drawing back, after a man has once set his face towards the Celestial City. He reminded the transgressor of the impossibility of escaping, if we refuse him who speaketh to us from heaven. At the same time, he described, in its true colours, the aggravated sin of apostasy. This sin he charged home directly upon the conscience ^f the Pilgrim. “Thou,” he said, “art the man who art running into all this misery. Thou hast begun to reject the counsel of the Most High. Thou art turned aside quick out of the way which he commanded thee by my mouth, to the hazardin of thy perdition.”
This language, dear brethren, sounds severe, but the occasion called for it. No part of a minister’s duty is more difficult, and yet none is more important, than skilfully to probe the wounds of those with whom he has to deal. On the one hand, he fears lest he should drive the trembling sinner to absolute desperation, by a full exposition of his conduct, with all its aggravated circumstances ; on the other, he dreads lest the person he is addressing should mistake a flashing pang of natural conviction, for the deep, abiding, humiliating work of the Holj’- Spirit upon the heart. He fears lest by an unwise and unsuitable application of gospel promises to those who are not prepared to receive them, he should be guilty of healing their hurt slightly, and saying peace, when there is no peace. It is generally found that persons with only a very slight sense of their sins, are soon comforted, and readily conclude that all is well, though they show neither the humility nor the consistency of a pardoned penitent. But he that believeth shall not make haste. Genuine penitents, for the most part, have far more difficulty in applying the promises of the gospel to their own case. They perceive, indeed, that a cold heart and a warm promise may be brought near to each other by the word; but they know, they feel that they cannot unite, and the cheerful blaze of hope and love be experienced within, until faith is given from above, and the promise is apphed by a hand Divine. The true evangelist knows well who it is that alone can effectually either heal or wound. And knowing that the Lord’s general method is, first to wound and then to bind up, he labours thoroughly to humble, before he attempts to comfort. This process, however, although necessary to a tender-hearted minister, is a painful necessity. He would much rather be otherwise employed. Oh, how much pleasanter does he find it to pour out the precious balm of the gospel to the truly contrite, than to probe the consciences of those of whom he stands in doubt, with the two-edged sword of the Lord, and to terrify and arouse them with the mighty thunderings of Sinai ! But it is the profit and salvation of others, not his own pleasure and inclination, that he seeks. Faithful, he remembers, are the wounds of a friend; and he that rebuketh a man shall afterwards find more favour than he who flattereth with his lips.
(3.) Observe now how tenderly did Evangelist encourage the wanderer when he perceived that he was ready to faint. The wise reprover is now satisfied that his words have sunk deep into the heart of him whom he is addressing. No sooner has his turning aside been represented to him in its true light by Evangelist, than Christian fell down at his feet as one dead, and cried, Woe is me, for I am undone! But Evangelist, like his Master, wounds only that he may heal. He therefore caught, immediately, the hand of the fallen Pilgrim, and said, with a distinct voice and solemn tone, “All manner of sins and blasphemies shall be forgiven to the children of men.” To this he added the earnest exhortation,” Be not faithless, but believing.” Then did the fallen one a little revive, and got up, and stood trembling as at the first.
Let us receive, dear brethren, instruction from the behaviour of Evangelist. Our conduct often appears to us in an entirely different light when it is plainly set before us by another, from what it did when we viewed it through the false medium of self-love and self-deception. When the righteous have smitten us, and we see our sin set before us, in all its deformity and all its malignity, where can we turn for comfort, or how can we avoid the blackness and darkness of despair? Nothing but the unfettered promises of free forgiveness, abounding, through the adorable Saviour, to the very chiefest of sinners, can then meet our case. Is there any poor backslider here, now filled with his own way, and tasting the bitterness of his doings? Are you ashamed, yea, even confounded, at the sight and sense of all your sins ? And because your back-shd-ings are increased, is your heart ready to faint within you ? Oh ! look to the only Saviour of sinners. Through him is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins ; and by him, all that believe are justified from all things. Through him all manner of sins are forgiven to every one that believeth. With him there is plenteous redemption, and abundant pardon, for sinners of every description.
Pardon for crimes of deepest dye;
A pardon sealed with Jesus’ blood.
Be not faithless, but believing; humbly put your trust in him, and you shall be delivered from the dark gulf of despair, and receive the gracious answer, ” I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely.”
(4.) We proceed to notice further how wisely did Evangelist admonish the Pilgrim for his future direction. If his rebukes are salutary, and his encouragements reviving, no less are his admonitions profitable. Evangelist represents, in the most forcible manner possible, what an enemy Worldly-Wisdom must ever prove to all who go on pilgrimage to the Celestial City. He savours only the doctrine of the world, a doctrine which he can profess without any cross ; but he cannot endure the doctrine propounded by Evangelist and his fellows. Thus he will not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord. There were three things especially which Christian was admonished utterly to abhor in the counsels of Worldly-Wisdom. His turning him out of the right way; his device to render the cross odious; and his setting him in a way that would only lead to the ministration of death.
These admonitions, dear brethren, are very important to every one of us. We should not be ignorant of the devices of Worldly-Wisdom; and when we understand what he is aiming at, and what is his drift, we shall abhor both the man and his communications. This enemy would not have us to make for the Strait-Gate. Has not the Lord, who is the way, and the truth, and the life, expressly told us, that the gate is strait, and the way narrow, that leadeth unto hfe; and that it is absolutely necessary for us to strive, if ever we mean to enter in ? Whoever, therefore, may tell us that the gate is not straight, that the way is 7iot narrow, and that so much striving is not necessary, we may be confident that this is an adversary ; one that would trouble us, and who is only trying to turn our feet from the narrow way of hfe to the broad road of destruction.
Worldly-Wisdom, again, would make the cross odious to us. By the cross I mean any reproach, or loss, or suffering which we are clearly required to endure for the sake of Christ, or out of attachment to him. True disciples ever account this most precious. Like Moses, they esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. But a religion of this kind, which may lead to such serious consequences. Worldly-Wisdom can never endure; and he accounts it little better than madness and folly. But oh! let us remember who has said, ” He that cometh after me, and hateth not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” His love to them must never interfere with what he owes to his Saviour. He must be willing to leave them, to give them all up, and act as if he hated them, sooner than allow them to sever the ties that bind him to Christ. He must be ready to deny himself, to take up his cross, and prove that he is a follower of Him who was crucified. Surely, then, that is not the religion of Christ, whoever may recommend it to us, that costs us nothing,—that is fashionable with the world, and which we can always profess without any cross or any self-denial. .
Worldly-Wisdom would send us for justijication to the works of the law. Oh I be convinced, this advice will certainly prove the ruin of all those who persist in following it. None can follow it without being involved, as Christian was, in all the blackness and darkness of terror and dismay. Ever since our guilty first parents were expelled from Paradise, the way to life and happiness, by our own works and obedience, has been bolted and barred, and closed up for ever. All who attempt to climb up to heaven by this way are thieves and robbers, and the porter will not open to them. Nay, the avenging justice of God Almighty stands with his drawn sword, which turns every way, to cut them off, and to exclude them from the tree of life. But another way has graciously been revealed, through the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. No man ever did or ever can find true rest to his soul, or obtain the favour of God, except by faith in the only Saviour of offending men. All, therefore, who would send a burdened sinner to the works of the law for peace of conscience, and who have no better advice to give than to recommend the practice of moral virtues, and civil duties, or outward services, are clearly physicians of no value. Nay, they are worse than that—they are perverters of the gospel. To every poor sinner we may say, Legality is not able to set thee free from thy burden. No man as yet was ever rid of his burden by him, no, nor ever is like to be. You cannot be justified by the works of the law, for by the deeds of the law no niu,:^ living can be justified. Therefore, Worldly-Wisdom is an alien; Legality is a cheat; and his son Civility is but an hypocrite, who cannot help thee. Believe me, there is nothing else in all that you have heard from this man, but a design to beguile you of your salvation, by turning you from the only right way, in which you are directed to seek rest to your soul and peace to your conscience.
We cannot fail to remark how well it became Evangelist, in giving these admonitions, thus fully to dwell on the essential difference between the law and the gospel. No one can do the work oi’ an evangelist—that is, he cannot be a true minister of the gospel—who does not perceive and understand this important distinction. And none of you, dear brethren, can know the liberty wherewith Christ makes his people free, neither can you offer any obedience to the law that wiil be acceptable to God, until you come by faith to be justified freely as a helpless sinner, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. It is not scholarship, but the teaching of the Holy Spirit, that alone can make you feel and know this precious truth. The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. Oh ! seek to know, and to feel, that you can be saved, not by any thing which you can do yourself, but by what Christ has done and suffered in your stead. Then, while you look unto him as the only ground of your justification before God, by receiving the law in all its extent, as the perfect rule of your conduct, and daily endeavouring to rule your heart and life by it, you will prove yourself to be a justified person before the eyes of all men.
(5.) The manner in which Evangelist confirmed his doctrine is the next point for our consideration. He called with a loud voice for a confirmation of the solemn truths which he had delivered. Neither did he call in vain; for lo! fire again was seen to flash from the mountain, and a voice of words was distinctly heard, which proclaimed aloud and said,
“As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.”
Christian felt the full import of these words. His own heart condemned him. The hair of his flesh stood up ; he looked for nothing but instant death; and bitterly did he bewail his sin and folly, in declining from the right way, merely upon the representations of Worldly-Wisdom, and to avoid his allotted cross in the way to Zion.
Oh, how full of important meaning is all this! They, dear brethren, who preach the true doctrine—that is, death and despair by our own works and deservings, and hfe and salvation by faith in Christ, are able to give the most undoubted sanctions for the truth of what they proclaim. They can appeal to the awakened conscience of every man born into the world, and say, Are not you condemned by this holy law ? If you have to live for ever, or to suffer the bitter pains of eternal death, according to your keeping or breaking this law, is not all hope of your salvation done away, and that for ever? Have you, from the earliest dawn of reason to the present moment, paid an ‘unsinning’ obedience to these commandments? What! have you loved the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind, and soul, and strength; and your neighbour as yourself ? Have you never once in your life, by thought, word, or deed, by look, intention, or desire, violated any one of the ten commandments? You dare not say so. Your own heart condemns you. You stand convicted as a transgressor of this holy law. Notwithstanding your morality, and your boasted obedience, there is one that condemneth you, even Moses, in whom you trust. You see, as it were, the fire flashing from the mount. You hear the voice of words which tell you that you are exposed to the curse of a broken law. The testimony of God is confirmed in you. You feel, when we tell you these things, that these are the true sayings of God. And to cut off your vain expectation, that partial obedience will be accepted instead of perfect obedience, listen again to the mighty thunderings, that roll so fearfully in heaven above, and echo so mournfully from earth beneath, ” All things that are written in the book of the law to do them !” Listen again to the voice of words, so impossible for any child of Adam to endure, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” Oh, what could any of us look for, but curses and death, and burning vengeance, and everlasting destruction from the Almighty, if we had no better foundation upon which to rest our hope than our own works and deservings!
(6.) But we have to notice finally, how happily Evangelist succeeded in restoring our pilgrim into the right way. The good effect of the interview, and of the wise and judicious treatment of Evangelist, now began to appear. Christian was exceedingly alarmed by the things which he heard and saw. But though greatly cast down, he is not quite in despair. He inquires first, if there be any hope for him; if he may retrace his steps ; and if he will not be rejected at the Gate, for what he has done? More fully and distinctly than ever, and with the most unfeigned humility and sincerity, he confesses his error. “I am heartily sorry,” he said, ” that I listened to the seducer’s voice, and followed his advice; but may I be forgiven?” Evangelist, in reply, did not excuse the wanderer’s transgression, but having spoken of it as being most grievous, he declared, to the unspeakable comforJ of the poor backsHder, ” Yet for all this the man at the Gate will not reject thee, for he has good-will for men; only take heed that thou turn not aside again, lest thou perish from the way, when his wrath is kindJed but a little.” This is good news, indeed, to the humbled and the burdened pilgrim. Having received an encouraging smile from his faithful friend, with the utmost care and diligence he addressed himself to retrace his wandering footsteps. He went like one that was all the while treading on forbidden ground, and could by no means think himself safe, till again he got into the way which he had forsaken to follow the counsel of Worldly-Wisdom. So in process of time he got up to the Gate.
Are there any here who have been seduced into some false way ? Have you, either by following the devices and desires of your own hearts, or by listening to the evil communications of others, made for yourselves crooked paths; and have you learned, by bitter experience, that they who walk therein shall know no peace ? Oh, ponder the path of your feet, that all your ways may be established ! Search and try your ways, and turn again unto the Lord. Cry earnestly unto him to restore your soul, and to lead you in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. And however multiplied may have been your sins, and however grievous your provocations ; however painfully you may have pierced yourselves through with many sorrows, never say, there is no hope. Hope, indeed, there is none, if
you are determined to keep your sms, to persist in rejecting the gospel of Christ, and so to pursue the ways of death. But what is the gracious message, which the Lord himself addresses to you, in his own most holy word ? ” Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God, for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.” Take with you words, and turn unto the Lord. Say unto him, take away all our iniquity, and receive us graciously. If you are heartily sorry for your past transgressions, and truly willing to renounce the counsel of Worldy-Wisdom; and if, looking unto Jesus as a poor helpless sinner, you are determined to press forward in the narrow way, in due time you will come to the Gate, the gate of mercy ; and if you knock, it will be opened to you.
Just as I am, without one plea, Save that thy blood was shed for me, And that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, and waiting not To rid my soul of one dark, blot, To thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, though tossed about With many a conflict, many a doubt, Fightings within, and fears without, O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, poor, helpless, blind;— Sight, wisdom, healing of the mind, Yea, all I need, in thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, thou wilt receive, Wilt pardon, welcome, bless, relieve, Because thy promise I believe: O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, thy love unknown Has broken every barrier down ; Now to be thine, yea, thine alone, O Lamb of God, 1 come.
O Lord, who showest to them that be in error the light of thy truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness, receive our humble petitions, and hearken to the prayer that we make before thee. We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have broken thy law, we have neglected thy gospel, we have fallen by our own iniquity, we have destroyed ourselves, and we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves. But turn thou us, and so shall we be turned, for thou art the Lord our God. Hast thou not said. Return, ye backsliding children? Lord, we come to thee. Take away all our iniquity, receive us graciously, heal our backslidings, love us freely, and let thine anger be turned away from us. Grant that we may come to thee, just as we are, to partake of the full, the free, and the finished salvation of thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. May it please thee, through the ministry of thy holy word, to impart to us sufficient light for our guidance in the way everlasting. Probe our wounds, and set our sins before us in such a light, that we may abhor ourselves in our own sight. But oh, do thou comfort us again with the hope of mercy, as we look to the great sacrifice of the cross. Make us heartily ashamed of our readiness to start and turn aside from thee, for our proneness to shrink from our allotted cross, and for the remaining pride and self-righteousness that is within us. Confirm thy word unto thy servants; and though it be by terrible things in righteousness, convince us that we can only find peace and rest in Christ. Restore our souls, and lead us in paths of righteousness, for thy name’s sake. And mercifully grant that all our lamented sins, negligences, and ignorances, may be overruled to our spiritual good ; making us more humble, more watchful, more steadfast in maintaining the truth of thy gospel. These things we humbly beg, in the name and mediation of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.