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The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways. - Proverbs 14:14.
I cannot conclude this course of lectures, without warning converts against backsliding. In discussing this subject, I will show:
I. What backsliding in heart is not.
II. What backsliding in heart is.
III. What are evidences of backsliding in heart.
IV. What are consequences of backsliding in heart.
V. How to recover from this state.
I. WHAT A BACKSLIDING HEART IS NOT.
1. It does not consist in the subsidence of highly excited religious emotions. The subsidence of religious feeling may be an evidence of a backslidden heart, but it does not consist in the cooling off of religious feeling.
II. WHAT BACKSLIDING IN HEART IS.
2. It is the leaving, by a Christian, of his first love.
3. It consists in the Christian withdrawing himself from that state of entire and universal devotion to God, which constitutes true religion, and coming again under the control of a self-pleasing spirit.
4. The text implies that there may be a backslidden heart, when the forms of religion and obedience to God are maintained. As we know from consciousness that men perform the same, or similar, acts from widely different, and often from opposite, motives, we are certain that men may keep up all the outward forms and appearances of religion, when in fact, they are backslidden in heart. No doubt the most intense selfishness often takes on a religious type, and there are many considerations that might lead a backslider in heart to keep up the forms, while he had lost the power of godliness in his soul.
III. WHAT ARE EVIDENCES OF A BACKSLIDDEN HEART.
1. Manifest formality in religious exercises. A stereotyped, formal way of saying and doing things, that is clearly the result of habit, rather than the outgushing of the religious life. This formality will be emotionless and cold as an iceberg, and will evince a total want of earnestness in the performance of religious duty. In prayer and in religious exercises the backslider in heart will pray or praise, or confess, or give thanks with his lips, so that all can hear him, perhaps, but in such a way that no one can feel him. Such a formality would be impossible where there existed a present, living faith and love, and religious zeal.
2. A want of religious enjoyment is evidence of a backslidden heart. We always enjoy the saying and doing of those things that please those whom we most love; furthermore, when the heart is not backslidden, communion with God is kept up, and therefore all religious duties are not only performed with pleasure, but the communion with God involved in them is a source of rich and continual enjoyment. If we do not enjoy the service of God, it is because we do not truly serve Him. If we love Him supremely, it is impossible that we should not enjoy His service at every step. Always remember then, whenever you lose your religious enjoyment, or the enjoyment of serving God, you may know that you are not serving Him aright.
3. Religious bondage is another evidence of a backslidden heart. God has no slaves. He does not accept the service of bondsmen, who serve Him because they must. He accepts none but a love service. A backslider in heart finds his religious duties a burden to him. He has promised to serve the Lord. He dare not wholly break off from the form of service, and he tries to be dutiful, while he has no heart in prayer, in praise, in worship, or in any of those exercises which are so spontaneous and delightful, where there is true love to God. The backslider in heart is often like a dutiful, but unloving wife. She tries to do her duty to her husband, but fails utterly because she does not love him. Her painstaking to please her husband is constrained, not the spontaneous outburst of a loving heart; and her relationship and her duties become the burden of her life. She goes about complaining of the weight of care that is upon her, and will not be likely to advise young ladies to marry. She is committed for life, and must therefore perform the duties of married life, but it is such a bondage! Just so with religious bondage. The professor must perform his duty. He drags painfully about it, and you will hear him naturally sing backslider's hymns:
4. An ungoverned temper. While the heart is full of love, the temper will naturally be chastened and sweet, or at any rate, the will keep it under, and not suffer it to break out in outrageous abuse, or if at any time it should so far escape from the control of the will as to break loose in hateful words, it will soon be brought under, and by no means suffered to take control and manifest itself to the annoyance of others. Especially will a loving heart confess and break down, if at any time bad temper gets the control.
Whenever, therefore, there is an irritable, uncontrolled temper allowed to manifest itself to those around, you may know there is a backslidden heart.
5. A spirit of uncharitableness is evidence of a backslidden heart. By this, I mean a want of that disposition that puts the best construction upon every one's conduct that can be reasonable - a want of confidence in the good intentions and professions of others. We naturally credit the good professions of those whom we love. We naturally attribute to them right motives, and put the best allowable construction upon their words and deeds. Where there is a want of this there is evidence conclusive of a backslidden or unloving heart.
6. A censorious spirit is conclusive evidence of a backslidden heart. This is a spirit of fault-finding, of impugning the motives of others, when their conduct admits of a charitable construction. It is a disposition to fasten blame upon others, and judge them harshly. It is a spirit of distrust of Christian character and profession. It is a state of mind that reveals itself in harsh judgments, harsh sayings, and the manifestation of uncomfortable feelings toward individuals. This state of mind is entirely incompatible with a loving heart, and whenever a censorious spirit is manifested by a professor of religion, you may know there is a backslidden heart.
7. A want of interest in God's Word, is also an evidence of a backslidden heart. Perhaps nothing more conclusively proves that a professor has a backslidden heart, than his losing his interest in the Bible. While the heart is full of love, no book in the world is so precious as the Bible. But when the love. is gone, the Bible becomes not only uninteresting but often repulsive. There is no faith to accept its promises, but conviction enough left to dread its threatening. But in general the backslider in heart is apathetic as to the Bible. He does not read it much, and when he does read it, he has not interest enough to understand it. Its pages become dark and uninteresting, and therefore it is neglected.
8. A want of interest in secret prayer is also an evidence of a backslidden heart. Young Christian, if you find yourself losing your interest in the Bible and in secret prayer, stop short, return to God, and give yourself no rest, till you enjoy the light of His countenance. If you feel disinclined to pray, or to read your Bible; if when you pray and read your Bible, you have no heart; if you are inclined to make your secret devotions short, or are easily induced to neglect them; or if your thoughts, affections, and emotions wander, you may know that you are a backslider in heart, and your first business is to be broken down before God, and to see that your love and zeal are renewed.
9. A want of interest in the conversion of souls and in efforts to promote revivals of religion. This of course reveals a backslidden heart. There is nothing in which a loving heart takes more interest than in the conversion of souls - in revivals of religion, and in efforts to promote them. 83 10. A want of interest in published accounts or narratives of revivals of religion, is also an evidence of a backslidden heart. While one retains his interest in the conversion of souls, and in revivals of religion he will, of course, be interested in all accounts of revivals of religion anywhere. If you find yourself, therefore, disinclined to read such accounts, or find yourself not interested in them, take it for granted that you are backslidden in heart.
11. The same is true of missions, and missionary work and operations. If you lose your interest in the work, and in the conversion of the heathen, and do not delight to read and hear of the success of missions, you may know that you are backslidden in heart.
12. The loss of interest in benevolent enterprises generally is an evidence of a backslidden heart. I say, "the loss of interest," for surely, if you were ever converted to Christ, you have had an interest in all benevolent enterprises that came within your knowledge. Religion consists in disinterested benevolence. Of course, a converted soul takes the deepest interest in all benevolent efforts to reform and save mankind; in good government, in Christian education, in the cause of temperance, in the abolition of slavery, in provision for the needs of the poor, and in short, in every good word and work. Just in proportion as you have lost your interest in these, you have evidence that you are backslidden in heart.
13. The loss of interest in truly spiritual conversation is another evidence of a backslidden heart. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" (Matthew 12:34). This our Lord Jesus Christ announced as a law of our nature. No conversation is so sweet to a truly loving heart, as that which relates to Christ, and to our living Christian experience. If you find yourself losing interest in conversing on heart religion, and of the various and wonderful experiences of Christians, if you have known what the true love of God is, you have fallen from it, and are a backslider in heart.
14. A loss of interest in the conversation and society of highly spiritual people, is an evidence of a backslidden heart. We take the greatest delight in the society of those who are most interested in the things that are most dear to us. Hence, a loving Christian heart will always seek the society of those who are most spiritually minded, and whose conversation is most evangelical and spiritual. If you find yourself wanting in this respect, then know for certain that you are backslidden in heart.