Invitation to Backsliders
William Nicholson, 1862
"Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the LORD.
Say to him: 'Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips. Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war-horses. We will never again say 'Our gods' to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find mercy.'
I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them!" Hosea 14:1-4
These words were delivered to Israel in captivity, suffering much, and having still much more to suffer, if they did not repent. The text is an invitation for them to return with penitential sorrow and confession to God, from whom they had revolted. A delightful assurance is given that they would find mercy.
Just so, the Gospel of Christ is a message of salvation to all sinners.
I. That All Men Are in a Fallen State:"Your sins have been your downfall!"
Man was created in the Divine image, and made a participant of the Divine favor. But sin has destroyed that likeness, and separated him from God. The image of Satan is now upon him — the spirit of the world is now within him — he is a rebel — an outcast — an alien. This fact is established:
1. By Scripture, where man is stated to be a transgressor full of impurity in a state of condemnation. "All have sinned," etc. "All gone astray." This is a state of dishonor, of misery, of imminent peril.
2. It is confirmed by experience. All penitents feel that they are fallen — and the repentant sinner, disgusted by his own evil deeds, is compelled to admit it. Psalm 51:1-5.
3. It is confirmed by observation. The fallen state of man is seen everywhere; it shows itself in the profane language and dark deeds of the human family. Look around and see.
II. God Invites Fallen Men to Return:"Return unto the Lord your God!"
Behold the compassion of God! He might have said, "Depart!"
This returning to God implies:
1. A sense of danger — that if the sinner does not return, he must eternally perish. It also implies a conviction that he is fallen — impure — guilty — and cannot save himself.
2. An approach to God the only fountain of mercy. "Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon!" Isaiah 55:7. The repentant sinner stops; he goes no farther in the broad way, but like the Prodigal, returns to his Father's house.
3. A return to God in the way he has appointed — through Christ alone. "No man can come unto the Father except by me."
III. The Mode of Address is Prescribed.
1. "Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to him: 'Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously!" These words are expressive of a wounded conscience — and a contrite heart. Like the Prodigal, feeling yourselves to be sinners, and saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" God will allow the sinner to address him. "Draw near unto me," etc. "Him that comes unto me, I will never cast out!" "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool!" Isaiah 1:18
2. Prayer for pardoning mercy. "Forgive all our sins!" He can take it away through the blood of his Son. He can take it away as a burden too heavy for me to bear. Give me a free and full remission. "Blot out my sins as a thick cloud." "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us!" Psalm 103:12
3. Prayer for gracious acceptance. "Receive us graciously." Let me be freely and fully justified. When I come before you, look upon me through the face of your anointed. I believe in Christ; treat me, for his sake, as though I had never sinned. "Receive me graciously."
4. The abandonment of all other objects of trust. "Assyria cannot save us!" We will not trust in that powerful king any more; we will not look either to riches or power, for true rest or peace of mind. We will not look to our own righteousness, which is as filthy rags, or to any other human source for salvation. They cannot save us. "There is none other name," etc. "Other foundations," etc.
"We will not mount war-horses!" Literally, we will not fix our hope for deliverance on the proud Egyptian cavalry. Isaiah 30:2, 16; 31:1. Spiritually, we will renounce all human expedients and devices for our salvation. See Jeremiah 3:3.
5. The abandonment of all idols. "We will never again say 'Our gods' to what our own hands have made!" verse 3. Idolatry was the cause of Israel's punishment.
Does not the sinner worship idols — the creature, wealth, honor, pleasure, sensual indulgence? All these must be abandoned before he returns to God, and Christ to him must be supreme, Luke 14:26, 27, 33.
IV. The Encouragement for a Sinner to Return to the Lord.It arises from:
1. The paternal mercy of God; "For in you the fatherless finds mercy." See this exhibited in the return of the Prodigal, Luke 15:20-24. The sinner is helpless, desolate, a perishing orphan — until translated into God's family. He "will receive the returning sinner." "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." 2 Corinthians 6:17-18
2. From his own comprehensive and gracious promise: "I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them!" verse 4.
God will act the part of an infinite Physician. You have backslidden and fallen, and are grievously and mortally wounded by that fall — but I, who am the Author of life, and who can redeem from death, will heal all those wounds and spiritual diseases.
I will love them freely — after a liberal princely manner. Though they are vile and worthless, I will not reject them, but save them, and incessantly do them good. It shall not be a love of affection merely — but a beneficial love. A love that not only feels delight in itself — but fills them with delight who are its objects, by making them unutterably and supremely happy.
"So will we render the fruit of our lips." That is, the sacrifice of praise, and the hearty obedience which our lips have often promised. We will spend and be spent for you!
V. The Return of Praise to Be Made by the Saved Sinner: