The Backslider Conquered!
by James Smith, 1860
When we begin to backslide, the Lord only knows where we shall stop; therefore we should beware of the first step in that direction. Ephraim backslid, and went on until he was bent on backsliding. God contended with him — but he persevered. God smote him — but he became still more hardened, and went on frowardly in the way of his heart. Nothing was more astonishing, than that God would not give him up — but was determined in his case to show, that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. How remarkable are his words, "I have seen his ways, and will heal him; I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners." Isaiah 57:11.
God's eye is on the backslider's path. "I have seen his ways!" Backslider, God is watching you. He observes your way. He notices your conduct. He remembers your vows. He marks your prevarications. You have forgotten him — and he knows it. He complains of it, and says, "You have not remembered me!" And again, "They have perverted their way, and they have forgotten the Lord their God." Still more touchingly he says, "You have not called upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me, O Israel." Weary of God! Weary of God — in whose hands your breath is! Weary of God — who has done such great things for you! Ah, look at your closet — have you not been weary of conversing with him? Look at your Bible — have you not been weary of reading what he has written for you? Look at your seat in the sanctuary — have you not been weary of listening to him? Ah, yes, you have forgotten God, your Savior, who did such great things for you! You have neglected his ordinances. You have bought him no sweet cane with money, neither have you brought him the fat of your sacrifices.
You have spent your money on yourselves — on your dress, your furniture, or your pleasures! These have had your thoughts, and carried away your hearts. You have dealt treacherously with him Betraying his cause. Breaking your engagements. Violating your vows. Acting directly contrary to your profession. From your profession, he had a right to expect you to be whole-hearted in his cause, and thorough in his work — but you have been the very opposite of this. You have obstinately persevered in your course. He spoke unto you in your prosperity — but you would not hear. He contended with you — but you would not yield. He smote you — but you would not return unto him — but obstinately pursued your course.
But at length, when clothed with shame, and filled with confusion you began to mourn before him, and to confess your sin — like a loving Father, he seemed to forget all the past, and said, "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself. Is not Ephraim my dear son? Is he not a pleasant child? True, I spoke against him — but I do earnestly remember him still, my heart is troubled for him, I will surely have mercy upon him. I have seen his ways, and will heal him."
God's heart goes out to meet the backslider on his return. "I will heal him." He has contracted disease. He is most unhealthy. I will be his Physician. "I will heal him." When God comes to heal, he first probes the wound, and his probing goes deep, causing much pain. He makes us see that it is an evil and bitter thing that we have forsaken the Lord our God. Having thoroughly probed the wound, and made us smart for our folly — he applies the healing balm. He cleanses the wound with the clean water of his word, and then heals it with the balmy blood of his dear Son. Thus he restores to health.
"I will lead him also. I will be his Guide — as well as his Physician. He shall realize his need of a leader, apply to me for guidance, and I will lead him." God leads the backslider with weeping and supplication from the paths of sin and folly — he comes back to the cross, and a sight of his wounded, dying Lord melts his hard heart, and makes the tears of contrition flow. He leads him to the mercy-seat, where he confesses his sin, and deplores his folly, and then he comforts him. He leads him again into the chambers of communion, opens his loving heart to him, and re-assures him of his eternal regard. He then leads him back to his vineyard, and bids him go and work; and right glad is the restored one, to spend and be spent for his glory.
"I will restore comforts unto him, and to his mourners." He thought he would never be happy again. But his injured Lord, promises not only to be his Physician and Guide — but his Comforter also — not only to comfort him — but those who have mourned for him too. Holy comfort shall he receive. Comfort, flowing from a sense of pardon — the full, free, and everlasting pardon of all his aggravating and inexcusable sins. Comfort, flowing from God's reconciling smile — for he will lift up the light of his countenance upon him, and smile upon his soul again. Comfort, flowing from the application of the promises — which will flow into his mind, and come home with power to his heart, when the Lord is pacified towards him. Comfort, flowing from being re-assured of the Lord's favor, and of his acceptance at the Lord's throne.
These comforts are divinely sweet and precious. They always embitter sin, and the pardoned backslider feels as if he could never forgive himself. They also break the heart, and streams of godly sorrow and humble confession flow out. They elevate the soul — and lift it out of self, above the world, and almost into the third heaven. They endear the Savior, and precious as Jesus was when the soul first believed, he appears to be a thousand times more precious now. They produce profound humility — low, very low views, has the soul of itself now — grace is admired, self is renounced, and covenant love gets all the glory. The heart is filled with adoring wonder, and the lips are opened to show forth God's praise. The oil of joy thus given, softens, heals, perfumes, and soothes the soul; so that it creeps to the feet of Jesus, and desires to lie there forever. Those who mourned for him are comforted too, by a sight of his restoration, by sympathy with him in his enjoyment, they are made glad and profoundly happy.
God observes our ways, hates our sins, and will correct our follies. But if we are really his — he will not give us up, or allow us to be too much for his restoring grace. He will hedge up our way with thorns, follow stroke with stroke, and if nothing else will do, he will flood our hearts with his love and subdue us to his will. He will heal our backslidings — he will lead us back into the paths of holiness — he will comfort us with his soul-transforming comforts — and save us with an everlasting salvation! O the power, the freeness, and the untiring patience of God's sovereign grace!