Holiness Is The Great Safeguard Against Backsliding
Man is a backslider. The first man was an apostate from God. He not only backslid but he transmitted a tendency to backsliding to his posterity. Every child born into this world comes on the stage of action handicapped with this disposition of drawing away from God. It is even worse than that. He possesses a spirit of hostility to God. Says Paul, “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” So fatal is this disposition that every dispensation since Adam has closed in a backslidden state of the general church. Any student of Bible history knows this to be true, whether he contemplates the patriarchal, the dispensation of the Law, that of the Prophets, the short dispensation of the Son of God, the Apostolic dispensation or the various religious movements of the past eighteen centuries. Backsliding is the sad history of the church after every great revival of history.
Every convert under the Christian Dispensation has felt within himself this same deadly disposition that when he would do good prompts him to evil. Happy and rare are the instances of those who have never yielded to this tendency to draw away from God. On it Satan works as a musician touches the keys and pulls the stops of An organ.
We have numerous instances of backsliding in the Scriptures – too numerous to mention.
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” He shows here that the cause of backsliding is ‘an evil heart of unbelief’ which deceitfully hardens the heart.
The history of modern revivals corroborates this statement. We do not believe it is the divine plan to have great revivals followed by great reactions. The country is full of backsliders. It is a great hindrance to the progress of Christianity. Thousands of people have started in the Christian life with a bright experience, who have been overtaken and defeated by the foe within their own bosoms. Their evil disposition has caused them to break over and commit sin for which they were genuinely sorry, and they have renounced the Christian life, saying: “It is impossible for me to live it,” or “I have such a peculiar disposition that I cannot be good. Other people can be good, but I cannot.”
Young converts have gone to their elders saying, ‘I thought I was converted but I think I was mistaken for I get angry sometimes.” The reply in some instances has been, “Oh, yes, you are converted, but you must expect that, as long as you live.” This has discouraged them. If we cannot be saved from this disposition then the way to heaven is very difficult. This has been voiced truly by thousands in the hymn,
“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love.”
And in still another hymn thus:
“Look how we grovel here below
Fond of these earthly toys,
Our souls how heavily they go
To reach eternal joys.”
There can be no doubt that this is the weak place in the religion today. It may be said that many people are only seeming backsliders. They were never really converted. No doubt this is true. But even after that, it must be confessed that there are thousands who have been genuinely converted, who have been led away from God by following the tendencies of “an evil heart of unbelief.” This is a most discouraging condition of affairs.
We repeat that God never intended such a condition. The modern church effort is to get men “converted” and very little (comparatively) is done to keep them converted. A great many ministers are so busy getting sheep into the fold that they fail to see how many are getting out at the other end. Of what use to bring children into the world to let them starve to death? Of what use to plant a crop if it cannot be harvested? Better not launch the ship if it cannot be kept afloat.
Paul said to the backslidden church at Galatia: “Ye did run well. Who did hinder you?” The trouble with that church was they were switched off the track. He says, “Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” Notice some things about this church. l. They began. 2. They began right. They began in the Spirit. They began by regeneration through the Holy Spirit by faith. 3. They continued for a time. It is of no use to begin unless we continue. 4. They continued in a wrong manner. They expected to be made “perfect by the flesh.” They felt their need of a perfect Christian life. Every real Christian does. They had before them the alternative of being made perfect through the Spirit or of attempting it by the flesh. They chose the latter alternative and backslid. They undertook to get rid of the carnal mind (the great drag in Christian life) by works of their own and failed. The result was they backslid. Had they trusted God for their sanctification, as they did for their justification, they would have continued in the way of the Spirit.
An event of history illustrates the agency of inbred sin in backsliding. An army had laid siege to a city. Month after month they had tried to take it. But the brave people within had repelled every attack. So they resorted to treachery. They bribed a young woman to let them in. One dark night she opened a gate in the walls and the town was taken. A little traitor undid the work of a host of armed men. So does inbred sin, that traitor in the heart, respond to Satan, our outward foe, and betray us. Inbred sin belongs to the devil and he works in co-operation with it. A pure heart has nothing within to respond to the tempter’s voice. Jesus said, “Satan cometh and hath nothing in me.”
We see this illustrated in the experience of Judas. He was once a good man, a preacher of the gospel, for certainly Jesus would not have chosen a bad man to preach and urge men to repent. This is an inconsistency inconceivable. But he had a covetous heart and it betrayed him and “”Satan entered into him,” says the inspired writer, and he backslid. Peter had a cowardly spirit which led him to deny his Master when outward temptation assailed him. John and James were men of fiery dispositions before Pentecost, who wanted to kill those who did not treat them well. It was this depraved disposition of heart that caused all the disciples to forsake Jesus and flee when His enemies seized Him.
The elimination of inbred sin lessens the danger of backsliding. We do not mean to say that it is a sure remedy for backsliding, for angels fell even in heaven, and Adam, the perfect man, fell. But elimination of sin lessens the danger of falling. It is in harmony with common sense for God to make provision for the eradication of this evil principle in our nature, or it is well nigh hopeless for us to expect to gain heaven.