NO mischief that ever befalls our Christian communities is more lamentable than that which comes from the defection of the members. The heaviest sorrow that can wring a pastor’s heart is such as comes from the treachery of his most familiar friend. The direst calamity the Church can dread is not such as will arise from the assault of enemies outside, but from false Brothers and Sisters within the camp.
The devil, himself, is not such a subtle foe to the Church as Judas, when, after the supper, Satan entered into him. Judas was a friend of Jesus. Jesus addressed him as such. And Judas said, “Hail, Master,” and kissed Him. And it was Judas who betrayed Him. In all our churches, among the many who enlist, there are some who desert. They continue awhile, and then they go back to the world.
“They went out from us because they were not of us, for if they had been of us, doubtless they would have continued with us.”
The unconverted adherents to our fellowship are no loss to the Church when they depart. They are not a real loss, any more than the scattering of the chaff from the threshing floor is a detriment to the wheat. Christ keeps the winnow- ing fan always going. His own preaching constantly sifted His hearers. Some were blown away because they were chaff. They did not really believe. By the ministry of the Gospel, by the order of Providence, by all the arrangements of Divine Government, the precious are separated from the vile, the dross is purged away from the silver that the good seed and the pure metal may remain and be preserved! The process is always painful. It causes great searching of heart among those who abide faithful—and occasions deep anxiety to gentle spirits of tender, sympathetic mold.
I trust, dear Friends, that you will not think I harbor any ungenerous suspicions of your fidelity because my text contains so pointed and so personal an appeal to your conscience. There is more of pathos than of pardon in the question as our Lord put it, “Will you also go away?” He addressed the favored twelve. I put it to myself. I put it to those who are the officers of the Church. I put it to every member without exception—Will you also go away? But should there be one to whom it is peculiarly applicable, I do not desire to flinch from putting the question most personally to that one, “What? Are you going? Do you mean to turn back? Do you mean to go away?”
Let us approach the enquiry sideways. Will you also go away? “Also” means as well as other people. Why do others go? The fundamental reason is lack of Grace, a lack of true faith, an absence of vital godliness.
Some there are in these days, as there were in our Lord’s own day, who depart from Christ because they cannot bear His Doctrine.
Our Lord had more explicitly than on any former occasion declared the necessity of the soul’s feeding upon Himself. They probably misunderstood His language, but they certainly took offense at His statement. Hence there were those who said, “This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” So they walked no more with Him.
There are many points and particulars in which the Gospel is offensive to human nature and revolting to the pride of the creature. It was not intended to please man. How can we attribute such a purpose to God? Why should He devise a Gospel to suit the whims of our poor fallen human nature? He intended to save men, but He never intended to gratify their depraved tastes. Rather does He lay the axe to the root of the tree and cut down human pride. When God’s servants are led to set forth some humbling Doctrine, there are those who say, “Ah, I will not assent to that!” They kick against any Truth of God which wounds their prejudices.
What say you, Brothers and Sisters, to the claims of the Gospel on your allegiance? Should you discover that God’s Word contradicts your cherished convictions, will you forthwith take offense and go away? If your hearts are right with Christ, you will be prepared to welcome all His teaching and yield obedience to all His precepts.
Only prove it to be Christ’s teaching and the right- minded professor is ready to receive it. That which is transparent on the face of Scripture, he will cordially accept. If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. As for that which is merely inferred and argued from the general drift of Scripture, the true heart will not be hasty to reject, but patient to investigate, like the Bereans, who, “were more noble than the Jews of Thessalonica, because they searched the Scriptures to see whether these things were so.”
Oh, that the word of Christ may dwell in us richly! God forbid that any of us should ever turn aside offended because of Him—His blessed Person, His holy example, or His sacred teaching! May we be always ready to believe what He says and prompt to do what He commands! As willing disciples of Jesus, let us press forward, listening to His voice, following in His footsteps and accounting His revealed will as our supreme law.
There are people who forsake true religion out of sheer levity.
I know not how to account for some men’s defections. If you take up the list of wrecks, you will notice some that have gone down through collisions, and others through striking rocks—but sometimes you meet with a vessel “foundered at sea.” How it happened, no one knows. The owner, himself, cannot understand it. It was a calm day and there was a cloudless sky when the vessel sank. There are some who, concerning faith, have made shipwreck under such apparently easy circumstances, so free from trial, so exempt from temptation, that we have not seen anything to awaken anxiety on their behalf, yet all of a sudden they have foundered! We are startled and amazed.
I remember one that fell into a gross sin, of whom a Brother unwisely said, “If that man is not a Christian, I am not.” His prayers had certainly been sweet. Many a time they have melted me down be- fore the Throne of Grace and yet the life of God could not have been in his soul, for he lived and died in flagrant vice— and was impenitent to the last! Such cases I can only attribute to a sort of levity which can be charmed with a sermon or a play. They can take a pew at the Chapel or a box at the opera with equal nonchalance and eagerly follow the excitement of the hour, “everything by turns, and nothing long.” “Unstable as water, they shall not excel.”
At the spur of a moment they profess Christianity, yet they do not espouse it—and then, without troubling themselves to renounce it—they drop off into infidelity. They are soft and malleable enough to be hammered into any shape. Made of wax, they can be molded by any hand that is strong enough to grip them! The Lord have mercy upon any of you who may happen to be of that species! You spring up soon, and suddenly you wither! Hardly is the seed sown before the sprout appears. What a wonderful harvest you promise! But ah, no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than, because there is no earth, the good seed withers away!
Pray God that you may be plowed deep, that the iron pan of rock underneath may be broken right up, that you may have plenty of subsoil and root—that the verdure you produce may be permanent! Want of principle is deadly, but the lack is far too common. Never cease to pray that you may be rooted and grounded, established and built up in Christ, so that when the floods come and the winds blow, you may not fall with a great destruction, as that house fell which was built upon the sand!
Others forsake Christ because they have become rich and increased in goods.
They did not scorn the little conventicle when they were plain, plodding people—but since fortune has smiled on them and they have moved their residence from a terrace to a mansion, they feel bound to move in another circle! To the parish church, or to some ritualistic church in their neighborhood, they go. They patronize the place by their presence—they show themselves among the elite of that locality. They bow and bend, and face about to the east, as though they had been to the manner born. They are too respectable to go into the little Baptist Chapel. Well, I think their departure is not to be lamented. When gone they are certainly no loss to anybody. We sigh for them as we would for Judas or Demas. They have fallen foul of what they thought their good fortune but of what has proved to be their ruin! Those who have true principles, when they rise in the world, see more reason why they should spend their wealth and their influence in aiding a good cause. Principle would prevail over policy to the end, if in their hearts they believed the Truth of God as it is in Jesus! It were no dishonor to a prince to go and sit down side by side with a pauper, were they both true followers of Jesus Christ.
In old times, when our sires met in caves and dens of the earth, they met the liege and the lowly, the bond and free. Or when, in even earlier ages, the Christians gathered in the catacombs, men out of Caesar’s household, now a chief, then a senator, soon a prince of the blood, came and sat down in those caves, lighted up with the dim candle, to listen while some unshod but Heaven-taught man declared the Gospel of Jesus with the power of the Holy Spirit! That they were illiterate, I am quite sure, for on looking over the monuments that are found in the catacombs, it is rare to find one inscription that is thoroughly well spelt. Though it is evident enough that the early Christians were an illiterate company of men, yet those that were great and noble did not disdain to join with them, nor will they if the light of Heaven shines and the love of God burns in their hearts!
Unsound Doctrine occasions many to apostatize.
There is always plenty of that about. Deceivers will beguile the weak and some have been led aside. They go on till, at last, they are staggered. They do not go to those who could help their scruples, but they continue to flounder on till at last they have lost their footing—and he that said he was a Believer has ended in stark atheism, doubting even the existence of a God! Why meddle with heresies? What can they do but pollute your minds? Why should you be so unwise as to go through pools of foul teaching merely because you think it easy to cleanse yourself of its pollution? Such trifling is dangerous.
If I have a roast on my table of which the smell and the taste at once convince me that it is putrid and unwholesome, should I show my discretion by fairly eating it all before giving my judgment that it is not fit for food? One mouthful is quite enough! And one sentence of some books ought to be quite enough for a sensible man to reject the whole mass! Let those who can relish such meat have it, but I have a taste for better food. If it is your duty to expose these evils, encounter them bravely, with prayer to God to help you. But if not, as a humble Believer in Jesus, what business have you to taste and test such noxious fare when it is exposed in the market? Keep to the study of the Word of God!
I will not continue in this strain. It is painful to me, if not to you.
While there is life there is hope!
Jesus Christ can forgive you. Return to Him. He can wash you in His blood. He can make you clean, though your sin is as scarlet. But, oh, do not trifle, make no delay! Tarry no longer in your present condition, otherwise maybe you will fill up the measure of your iniquities before you are aware, and you may taste, even in this world, some beginning of the wrath to come! If not rescued as a trophy of Grace right speedily, you may become a monument of God’s wrath—a beacon to deter others from daring to turn aside! I speak solemnly, but I cannot help it. So intensely do I feel the terror of that woe, and so confident am I that some of you are making light of it, that I would go down on my knees and entreat you with tears to remind you what you are doing. You are on a steep plane and you are going down, down, down! Your feet are even now on the slippery places from which multitudes have been cast down into destruction! How are they brought into desolation as in a moment! The Lord make haste to deliver you! May He stretch out His hand and receive you! I can only call out to you. Do not venture a footstep further on that dangerous road.
Were we left to ourselves, I cannot tell you any reason why we should not go as they have gone. Nor, indeed, could I tell you why the best man here would not be the worst before tomorrow morning, if the Grace of God left him. John Bradford, you know, as he saw the poor criminals taken away to Tyburn to be executed, used to say, “There goes John Bradford, but for the Grace of God.” Verily each one of us might say the same! To abide with Christ, however, is our only security—and we trust we shall never depart from Him. But how can we make sure of this? The great thing is to have a real foundation in Christ to begin with—genuine faith, vital godliness. The foundation is the first matter to be attended to in building a house. With a bad foundation there cannot be a substantial house. You require a firm bottom, a sound groundwork, before you proceed to the superstructure. Do pray God that if your religion is a sham, you may find it out now! Unless your hearts are deeply plowed with genuine repentance, and unless you are thoroughly rooted and grounded in the faith, you may have some cause to suspect the reality of your conversion and the verity of the Holy Spirit’s operation in you. May the Lord work in you a good beginning, and then you may rely upon it, He will carry it on to the day of Jesus Christ!
Then remember, dear Brothers and Sisters,
If you would be preserved from falling, you must be schooled in humility and keep very low before the Lord. When you are half an inch above the ground, you are that half-inch too high. Your place is to be nothing! Trust Christ, but do not trust yourself. Rely on the Spirit of God, but do not rely on anything that is in yourself—no, not on a Grace you have received, or on a gift you possess! Those do not slide who walk humbly with God. They are always safe whose entire dependence is upon God. Be jealous of your obedience! Be circumspect! Be careful! Take heed to yourselves—your walk and conversation cannot be too cautious. Many are lost through being too remiss, but none through being too scrupulous. The statutes of the Lord are so right that you cannot neglect them with- out diverging from the path of rectitude. Watch and pray!
God help you to watch, or else you will get drowsy. Never neglect prayer. That is at the root of every defection. Retrogression commonly begins at the closet. To restrain prayer is to deaden the very pulse of life!
“Watch unto prayer.”