Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul
by Octavius Winslow (1841)
Chapter 8: The Lord, the RESTORER of His People
"He restores my soul." (Psalm 23:3)
Throughout the discussion of our subject, we have endeavored to keep distinctly and prominently before the mind of the reader, the indestructible nature of the Divine life in the soul, the stability of the covenant of grace, and the unchangeableness of God's love towards his people. The proper unfolding of our theme demanded more than a bare recognition of these glorious Gospel truths: apart from them, upon what an uncertain tenure would the final salvation of the believer rest! When we are led to consider the uncertainty of the creature, - when we take the history of a child of God, compressed within the short period of a single day, - mark what flaws, what imperfections, what fickleness, what startings aside, what dereliction in principle, what flaws in practice, what errors in judgment, and what wanderings of heart, make up that brief history, - how are we led to thank God for the stability of the covenant! that covenant which provides for the full redemption of all believers, - which from eternity secures the effectual calling, the perfect keeping, and the certain salvation of every chosen vessel of mercy. With what distinctness and sweetness is this truth thus unfolded by God himself: " If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless, my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail: my covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips." Psalm lxxxix. 30-34.
It will be seen, that two most solemn and affecting truths are recognized in this passage, - the backslidings of a child of the covenant, and the certainty of his restoration. It is more especially with the latter truth that we have to do in the present chapter.
Of the necessity that exists for the restorings of the Lord, we need not here say much, the preceding pages having gone at some length into this point; and yet it forms the basis of our present subject, and is too important to be dismissed with a simple allusion. That there exists a necessity for the Divine restorings, who can doubt, that remembers that the Divine life of a believer has its residence in a heart but partially renewed and sanctified? In the case of Adam before he fell, this was not so; there was nothing in his heart opposed to the life of God within him. The mind, the will, the affections, yes, the whole soul, were one glorious orb of perfect light and holiness: not a shadow dimmed its luster, not a speck marred its beauty. Every faculty of the mind, every bias of the will, every emotion of the heart, every breathing of desire, were in agreement with its nature, and were favorable to its growth.
But not so is it now. Adam fell, and in his fall transmitted to his posterity a nature totally corrupt in every part; and although Divine and sovereign grace has undertaken to renew that nature, and does so in part, yet it is but in part renewed and restored to its original glory. The Divine life has its dwelling-place in a fallen, fleshly nature. One sentence of the apostle's explains and confirms this truth, - " The life which I now live in the flesh," Gal. ii. 20: the Divine life which he lived, was in the flesh. It was encompassed by all the corruptions, weaknesses, infirmities, and assaults of the flesh; there was not a moment that it was not exposed to assaults from within; there was not a natural faculty of the mind, or throb of the heart, that was favorable to its prosperity, but all were contrary to its nature, and hostile to its advance. Let every believer remember, that the Divine life which he lives, he lives in the flesh; and that there exists not a day that he stands not in need of the restorings of the Lord.
Connect with this the many external influences which are hostile to the Divine life in the soul. As there is nothing internal that is favorable to a state of grace, so there is nothing external that assists it forward. It has its many and violent enemies: Satan is ever on the watch to assault it, - the world is ever presenting itself in some new form of fascination and power to weaken it, - a thousand temptations are perpetually striving to ensnare it; thus its internal and external enemies are leagued against it. Is it, then, any wonder that faith should sometimes tremble, that grace should sometimes decline, and that the pulse of the Divine life should often beat faintly and feebly ?
The saints in every age have felt and lamented this. Hence the prayer of David, which is the prayer of all true believers: " Hold you me up, and I shall be safe "; implying the greatest weakness in himself, and his perpetual exposure to the greatest falls; " Hold you me up, for only as I am upheld by you, am I safe." Again he prays: " Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me"; implying that a believer left to the tendencies of his fallen nature, might become a prey to the worst sins: " Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins." In addressing himself to the converted Hebrews, the apostle seizes the occasion thus to exhort them: "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God." " In departing," - implying a constant tendency to depart from God. And what does God himself say of his people ? " My people are bent to backsliding from me." And again, " Why is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding?" Yes, it is a perpetual proneness to declension. The sun rises but to set, the clock is wound up but to run down; and not more natural is it for them thus to obey the laws that govern them, than for the heart of a child of God to follow the promptings of its corrupt and wayward nature.
This leads us to touch upon the principle of all departure from God. We look at a believer's lax practice, we mourn and weep over it, and we do well; we trace our own, and still deeper shame and confusion of face cover us: but we forget that the cause of our bitterest sorrow and humiliation should be, the concealed principle of evil from whence springs this unholy practice. How few among the called of God, are found confessing and mourning over the sin of their nature - the impure fountain from whence flows the stream, the unmortified root from whence originates the branch, and from which both are fed and nourished! This is what God looks at, - the sin of our fallen, unsanctified nature, - and this is what we should look at, and mourn over. Indeed, true mortification of sin consists in a knowledge of our sinful nature, and its subjection to the power of Divine grace. The reason why so few believers " through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body," is, a forgetfulness that the work has to do first and mainly with the root of sin in the soul: " Make the tree good, and the fruit will also be good "; purify the fountain, and the stream will be pure. Oh, were there a deeper acquaintance with the hidden iniquity of our fallen nature, - a more thorough learning out of the truth, - that " in our flesh there dwells no good thing," - a more heartfelt humiliation on account of it, and more frequent confession of it before God, - how much higher than they now are would be the attainments in holiness of many believers!
There is, then, in every child of God, the innate principle of departure. Notwithstanding the wonders of grace God has wrought for the soul, - though he has elected, called, renewed, washed and clothed the believer; yet if he did not check and rein him in, he would depart, and that forever! - this unsanctified, unmortified principle would bear him away. Is there not in this aspect of our theme something truly heart-breaking? - the subject of a kind and benevolent government, and yet to be always rebelling against the Sovereign; dwelling under a kind and loving Father's roof, and yet to be perpetually grieving him, and departing from him; to have received so many costly proofs of his love, and yet rendering the most ungrateful returns, - oh, it is enough to sink the soul in the deepest self-abasement before God! Reader, what has the Lord been to you? Come, witness for him; has he ever been a wilderness to you, a dry and barren land? - has there been anything in his dealings, in his conduct, in his way with you, wherefore you should have turned your back upon him? - has there been any harshness in his rebukes, any unkind severity in his corrections, anything judicial and vindictive in his dealings? No, on the contrary, has he not been a fruitful garden, a pleasant land, a fountain of living waters to you? Has he not blended kindness with all his rebukes, tenderness with all his chastisements, love with all his dealings, and has not his gentleness made you great? Then why have you departed from him? What is there in God that you should leave him, what in Jesus that you should wound him, what in the blessed Spirit that you should grieve him? Is not the cause of all your departure, declension, unkindness, unfruitfulness, in yourself, and in yourself alone? But if this has been your conduct towards God, not so has been his conduct towards you. This brings us to the consideration of his restoring mercy.
The first point we would look at is, the love of the Lord Jesus in restoring a wandering believer. Nothing but the most infinite, tender, unchanging love, could prompt Him to such an act. There is so much of black ingratitude, so much of deep turpitude in the sin of a believer's departure from the Lord, that but for the nature of Christ's love, there could be no possible hope of his return. Now this costly love of Christ is principally seen in his taking the first step in the restoring of the soul: the first advance is on the part of the Lord. This is too important a truth to be lightly touched upon. There is no more self-recovery after, than there is before, conversion; it is entirely the Lord's work. The same state of mind, the same principle that led to the first step in declension from God, leads on to each successive one: until, but for restraining and restoring grace, the soul would take an everlasting farewell of God. But mark the expression of David, - " He restores my soul." Who? He of whom he speaks in the first verse as his Shepherd, - " The Lord is my Shepherd." It is the Shepherd that takes the first step in the recovery of the wandering sheep. If there is one aspect in the view of this subject more touching than another, it is this, - that such should be the tender, unchanging love of Jesus towards his wandering child, he should take the first step in restoring him. Shall an offended, insulted Sovereign make the first move towards conciliating a rebellious people? - that Sovereign is Jesus: shall an outraged Father seek his wandering child, and restore him to his affections and his house? - that Father is God. Oh what love is that which leads Jesus in search of his wandering child: love that will not let him quite depart: love that yearns after him, and seeks after him, and follows after him through all his devious way, his intricate wanderings, and far-off departures; love that no unkindness has been able to cool, no forgetfulness has been able to weaken, no distance has been able to destroy!
Not less conspicuous is the power of Jesus in the restoring of the soul: "He restores my soul," - he, the Omnipotent Shepherd. We want Omnipotence to bring us back when we have wandered; nothing less can accomplish it. We want the same power that converted, to re-convert; the power that created, to re-create us. This power Jesus possesses. It was essential to the full salvation of his church that he should have it; therefore, when praying to his Father, he says, " As you have given him power over all flesh," - why this power? - " that he should give eternal life to as many as you have given him." It was necessary that he should have power over all flesh, yes, over all the powers leagued against the church, that he should bring to glory all that were given to him in the covenant of grace.
Now this power is gloriously exerted in the restoring of the soul. Jesus works in the believer, in order to his recovery. He breaks down the hard heart, arrests the soul in its onward progress of departure, places upon it some powerful check, lays it low, humbles, abases it, and then draws from it the blessed acknowledgment, " Behold, I am vile; but, he restores my soul."
There is infinite wisdom, too, in the Lord's restorings. This perfection of Jesus is clearly revealed here: in the way he adopts to restore, we see it. That he should make, as he frequently does, our very afflictions the means of restoration to our souls, unfolds the profound depth of his wisdom. This was David's prayer, - " Quicken me according to your judgments ": and this was his testimony, - " Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept your word"; - "Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you will revive me." The season of trial is not infrequently the sanctified season of revival. Who that has passed through the furnace has not found it so? Then the declension of the soul has been discovered, - then the hidden cause of that declension has been brought to light, - then the spirit has bowed in contrition before the Lord, - then grace has been stirred up in the heart, and a new sweetness has been given to prayer, and a new impulse to faith, and a new radiance to hope, and from the flame the gold and the silver have emerged, purified of their tin and dross. But for the production of effects like these, why the many peculiar and heavy afflictions that we sometimes see overtaking the child of God? Do not think that our heavenly Father takes pleasure in chastening us; do not think that it delights him to behold the writhings, the throes, and the anguish of a wounded spirit; do not think that he loves to see our tears, and hear our sighs and our groans under the pressure of keen and crushing trial. No: he is a tender, loving father; so tender and so loving, that not one stroke, nor one cross, nor one trial more does he lay upon us, than is absolutely needful for our good; - not a single ingredient does he put in our bitter cup, that is not essential to the perfection of the remedy. It is for our profit that he chastens, not for his pleasure; and that often to rouse us from our spiritual sleep, to recover us from our deep declension, and to impart new vigor, healthiness, and growth, to his own life in the soul.
Nor must we overlook the gentleness of the Lord's restoring. We have a beautiful exhibition of this in the recovery of the stray sheep, as set forth by Jesus himself: " What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, does not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing." Luke xv. 4, 5. Here is the gentleness of the shepherd, - " he lays it on his shoulders." Too feeble itself to walk, too exhausted in its wanderings to return, the gentle shepherd having sought and found it, " lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing." Touching picture of the Savior's gentleness in restoring a backsliding soul! What but infinite gentleness is seen in the restoring of Peter? It was but a look; - not a word fell from the lips of the Savior - not an unkind rebuke, not a harsh upbraiding word did he breathe; yet that look - what artist's pencil has ever been able to imitate it; - that look so full of love, so full of gentleness, so full of forgiveness, did seem to say," I am going to die for you, Peter - all this and more I suffer for you; will you, can you deny me?" - that look, so touching, so melting, so eloquent, and so forgiving, reached the heart of the backsliding apostle, melted it, broke it, and sent him from the judgment-hall weeping bitterly. There was no expression in the look which Jesus bent upon Peter, but love. Let this truth be fixed in the heart of every backsliding believer. The Lord restores the soul gently. The moment he discovers to it its sin, he conveys some token of his pardoning mercy: the balm is applied the moment the wound is given, the remedy is at hand the moment the distemper is discovered. There is a tenderness, an unutterable tenderness, in the heart and hand, in the mercy and the method of the Lord's recovery of his child, which only he can feel. See it in the case of David. How did God bring his sin to remembrance? By the chastising rod? by heavy judgment? by severe expressions of displeasure? No; none of these were his messengers: but he sent a kind, tender, faithful prophet, to discover to him his awful backsliding; and the astounding words, " You are the man," had scarcely died away upon his ear, before he pours in this healing balm, "The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die." Oh, what gentleness, what tenderness, are thus shown in the Lord's restorings of his wandering child! From whom could this have been expected but from him whose nature and whose name is love, - from, whom, but him who could thus speak to his backsliding Ephraim: " Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spoke against him I do earnestly remember him still; therefore my affections are troubled for him: I will surely have mercy upon him, says the Lord." This is an outgushing of tenderness towards a poor, returning, backsliding soul, which could only have had its dwelling-place in the heart of Jehovah.
But we have yet to speak of the way of a poor backslider's return to the Lord. May the Spirit impart wisdom and unction in unfolding this most important point! First, as touching the spirit with which he should return.
Looking at the case of the backsliding church of Ephesus, we find the nature of her sin, and the mode of her recovery, thus set forth: " I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love. Remember, therefore, from whence you are fallen, and repent and do the first works." The first exhortation addressed to her was, "Remember, therefore, from whence you are fallen." She was first called to solemn reflection upon her former state of prosperity.
Let the backsliding believer be brought to this first step, " Remember from whence you are fallen "; - revert to your past history, your former spiritual state; - remember your first sorrow for sin, the first joy of its pardon; - remember the spring-tide of your first love - how precious Jesus was, how glorious was his person, how sweet was his cross, how fragrant was his name, how rich was his grace; - remember how dear to you was the throne of grace, how frequently you resorted to it, regarding it of all spots on earth the most blessed; - remember how, under the anointings of adopting love, you walked with God as with a Father - how filial, how close, how holy was your communion with him; - remember the seasons of refreshing in the sanctuary, in the social meeting, in the closet, how your soul did seem to dwell on the sunny sides of glory, and you longed for the wings of a dove that you might fly to your Lord: - remember how, publicly and before many witnesses, you put off sin and put on Christ, and turning your back upon the world, took your place among the followers of the Lamb; - remember how holy, and circumspect, and spotless was your walk, how tender was your conscience, how guileless was your spirit, how humble and lowly your whole deportment. But what and where are you now? O remember from whence you are fallen! Think from what a high profession, from what an elevated walk, from what holy employments, from what hallowed joys, from what sweet delights, and from what pleasant ways have you declined? May you not truly inquire with the sweet poet of Olney,-
"Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus and his word?
"What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still;
But they have left an aching void,
The world can never fill.
"Return, O holy Dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest!
I hate the sins that made you mourn,
And drove you from my bosom."
In the exhortation given to the backsliding church at Ephesus, there is yet another instruction equally applicable to the case of all wanderers from the Lord: "Repent and do the first works." How can a departing soul return without repentance? by what other avenue can the prodigal reach his Father's heart? Repentance implies the existence and conviction of sin. Ah! is it no sin, beloved reader, to have turned your back upon God? is it no sin to have lost your first love, to have backslidden from Jesus, to have transferred your affections from him to the world, or to the creature, or to yourself ? is it no sin to go no more with the Shepherd, and to follow no more the footsteps of the flock, and to feed no more in the green pastures, or repose by the side of the still waters? O yes! it is a sin of peculiar magnitude; it is a sin against God in the character of a loving Father, against Jesus in the character of a tender Redeemer, against the Holy Spirit in the character of a faithful Indweller and a Sanctifier; it is a sin against the most precious experience of his grace, against the most melting exhibitions of his love, and against the most tender proofs of his covenant faithfulness.
Repent, then, of this your sin. Think how you have wounded Jesus afresh, and repent; think how you have requited your father's love, and repent; think how you have grieved the Spirit, and repent. Humble yourself in dust and ashes before the cross, and, through that cross, look up again to your forgiving God and Father. The sweet promise is, "They shall look upon him whom they have pierced, and shall mourn for him as one mourns for his only son." This leads us to touch upon one more point of vast moment in the way of a soul's return to God. It is this:
All real return of a backsliding soul is through Jesus. Jesus is God's great Door of approach to his throne. No other entrance will conduct us to the golden scepter; no other will bring us into the holy of holies. Thus has the Holy Spirit unfolded this truth: "Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he has consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an High Priest over the house of God; let us draw near." O blessed Door of return for a poor, backsliding, heart-broken believer! - a crucified Savior, in whom God is well pleased, and for whose sake he can receive the sinner, and put away his sin, can welcome the backslider, and heal his backsliding.
Nor must we overlook the gracious work of the Spirit in the restoring of a backsliding soul; but for him, not a step in the way of return would be taken on the part of the believer. The first solemn reflection, the first wistful glance of the eye towards the Father's home, the first sigh that heaves the heart, the first tear that starts from the fountain of grief, the first step bent towards a forsaken God, is the effect of his blessed operation, of his unchangeable love, and covenant faithfulness. What debtors are we to the blessed and Eternal Spirit! What reverential views should we entertain of his person, and what tender thoughts should we cherish of his work!
The encouragements to return to the Lord are many and great: in the first place, we have the gracious invitations of God himself. How numerous and touching are these! Where is the heart, deeply conscious of its backsliding, that can resist the power of language like this: Go, and proclaim these words towards the north, and say, Return, you backsliding Israel, says the Lord; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, says the Lord, and will not keep anger forever." Jer. iii. 12. Here is a warrant for your return - God's own free invitation! You want no more. What if Satan discourages, what if your sins plead against you, what if guilt and unbelief and shame combine to impede your way, if God says, " Return!" - that is sufficient for you. You do want no more; if he is willing to receive you back, to pardon your sins, to forget your base ingratitude, to heal your backslidings, and restore your soul, you have the broad warrant to return, in the face of all opposition and discouragement. Yet again the cheering invitation runs, - "Only acknowledge your iniquity that you have transgressed against the Lord your God." - "Turn, O backsliding children, says the Lord, for I am married unto you." " Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings." " I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him." Jer. iii.; Hosea xiv.
The character of God is such as encourages the return of a backsliding soul. In the invitations he has given, he urges them upon the ground of what he is: "Return, you backsliding Israel, says the Lord; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, says the Lord." O touching, soul-subduing, heart-melting argument, - "Return unto me, for I am merciful!" Merciful to receive you, merciful to pardon you, merciful to heal you. O the boundless mercy of God in Christ towards a soul returning from its wanderings! Will not this draw you? Again; "I have blotted out as a thick cloud your transgressions, and as a cloud your sins; return unto me, for I have redeemed you." "Return, for I have blotted out your transgressions: return, for I have put away your sins: return, for I have redeemed you. The work is already done, - the pardon has already gone forth, - the backsliding has already been forgiven; then linger not, but return, for I have redeemed you." Here, on the broad basis of the Lord's free and full pardon, the wandering soul is urged to return. Truly may the apostle say, " If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Thus is the character of God, as a merciful, sin-pardoning God, held out in the word as a motive and an encouragement to return. This is just the view of God, which, as a back sliding soul, you want. In yourself you see everything to discourage, everything to forbid your return: and even on awakening to a sense of your departure, your first thoughts of God are such as to repel you from his presence; you are ready to say, " I have wilfully departed from the Lord: I have gone after other lovers; I have hewn out other cisterns; now the Lord has given me up in his displeasure, and has forsaken me forever in his wrath." But God comes forth, and vindicates his own gracious character, unfolds his own love, and in accents most encouraging and persuasive, addresses himself to his wandering child, and says, "Return, you backsliding Israel, for I am merciful."
In the parable of the prodigal son, we have the character of God towards a returning soul truly and beautifully drawn. The single point we would now advert to is, the posture of the father on the approach of his child. What was that posture? - the most expressive of undiminished love, of yearning tenderness, of eagerness to welcome his return. Thus is it described: " And when he was a great way of, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him." All this is God to you, dear returning soul! He is on the eager watch for your first movement towards him; he is looking as with outstretched neck for the first sign of your soul's return, for the first sound of your footsteps, for the first relentings of your heart: yes, even more than this, or this were nothing, he sends his own Spirit to work that return in your soul, to break your heart, to rouse your slumbering spirit, to draw you, win you to his arms. This is your God, - the God whom you have forsaken, from whose ways you have declined, but who, in the very depth of your declension, and in the very extremity of your departure, has never withdrawn his eye of love one moment from you.
Nor must we overlook the grand source of encouragement to a returning soul, - that which springs from the cross of Christ. But for a crucified Savior, there could be no possible return to God; in no other way could he consistently with the holiness and rectitude of the Divine government, with what he owes to himself as a just and holy God, receive a poor wandering, returning sinner. Mere repentance and humiliation for, and confession of, sin, could entitle the soul to no act of pardon. The obedience and death of the Lord Jesus laid the foundation, and opened the way for the exercise of this great and sovereign act of grace. The cross of Jesus displays the most awful exhibition of God's hatred of sin, and at the same time the most august manifestation of his readiness to pardon it. Pardon, full and free, is written out in every drop of blood that is seen, is proclaimed in every groan that is heard, and shines in the very prodigy of mercy that closes the solemn scene upon the cross. O blessed door of return, open and never shut, to the wanderer from God! how glorious, how free, how accessible! Here the sinful, the vile, the guilty, the unworthy, the poor, the penniless, may come. Here, too, the weary spirit may bring its burden, the broken spirit its sorrow, the guilty spirit its sin, the backsliding spirit its wandering. All are welcome here. The death of Jesus was the opening and the emptying of the full heart of God; it was the outgushing of that ocean of infinite mercy, that heaved and panted and longed for an outlet; it was God showing how he could love a poor, guilty sinner. What more could he have done than this? what stronger proof, what richer gift, what costlier boon, could he have given in attestation of that love? Now it is the simple belief of this, that brings the tide of joy down into the soul. It is faith's view of this that dissolves the adamant, rends asunder the flinty rock, smites down the pyramid of self-righteousness, lays the rebellious will in the dust, and enfolds the repenting, believing soul in the very arms of free, rich, and sovereign love. Here, too, the believer is led to trace the sin of his backsliding in its darkest lines, and to mourn over it with his bitterest tears, -
"Then beneath the cross adoring,
Sin does like itself appear;
When the wounds of Christ exploring,
I can read my pardon there."
If the Lord has restored your soul, dear reader, remember why he has done it, - to make you hate your sins. He hates them, and he will make you to hate them too: and this he does by pardoning them, by sprinkling the atoning blood upon the conscience, and by restoring unto you the joys of his salvation. And never is sin so sincerely hated, never is it so deeply deplored, so bitterly mourned over, and so utterly forsaken, as when he speaks to the heart, and says, " Your sins are forgiven you, go in peace." As though he did say, "I have blotted out your transgressions, I have healed your backslidings, I have restored your soul;' that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth any more because of your shame, when I am pacified toward you for all that you have done, says the Lord God.'" Ezek. xvi. 63.
Remember that, just where the departure commenced, there should commence the return. Did it begin at the closet? - then at the closet let your restoration commence. Return to secret, closet prayer; build up the ruined altar, - rekindle the expiring flame, let that holy sanctuary once more witness to your confessions, your humiliations, your strong crying and tears, and your close, filial, and hallowed communion with God. O blessed moment that sees you there again, even though it be to smite in anguish on your bosom, and to cover yourself with sackcloth and ashes before the Lord!
And do not overlook, in this great business of restoration, the intercession of Jesus, the High Priest, at the right hand of God. If your heavenly Father has restored your soul, not only has he done it from the spring of his own unchangeable love, but that which has prevailed with him was the power of the sweet incense of the Redeemer's blood before the mercy-seat. Moment by moment does this fragrant cloud go up, bearing as it ascends all the circumstances of all the Israel of God. There is not only the blood already sprinkled on the mercy-seat, which has satisfied Divine justice, but there is the constant pleading of the blood by Jesus, the Priest, before the throne. O precious thought, O comforting, encouraging truth, for a soul retreading its steps back to God! Of its own it has nothing to plead but its folly, its ingratitude, its wretchedness, and its sin; but faith can lay its trembling hand upon this blessed truth, - faith can observe Jesus clothed in his priestly garments standing between the soul and God, spreading forth his hands, and pleading on behalf of the returning believer the merits of his own precious obedience and death. And thus encouraged, he may draw near and touch the scepter: " If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." " Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." Heb. ix. 24.
In view of all these precious encouragements, persuasive motives, and earnest expostulations, will you, dear backsliding soul, still refuse to return? I entreat you, I implore you, I beseech you, to arise and go to your Father, and say unto him, " Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight." By all that is tender and forgiving in that Father's heart, - by all that is melting, persuasive, and precious in the work of Jesus, - by his agony and bloody sweat, by his cross and passion, by his death, burial, and resurrection, I beseech you to return! By the honor of that holy religion you have wounded, by all the hopes of glory you have indulged in, by all that is sacred and precious in the memory of the past, and by all that is solemn and real in the prospect of the future, I implore you to return! By the faithful promises of God, by the tender yearnings of Jesus, by the gentle drawings of the Spirit, by all that you will experience in the joy and peace and assurance of a restored soul, by the glory of God, by the honor of Christ, by the nearness of death and the solemnity of the judgment, I entreat, I implore, I beseech you, wanderer, prodigal, to return!
"Return, O wanderer, return!
And seek an injured Father's face;
Those warm desires that in you burn,
Were kindled by reclaiming grace.
"Return, O wanderer, return!
Your Savior bids your spirit live;
Go to his bleeding side, and learn
How freely Jesus can forgive.
"Return, O wanderer, return!
Regain your lost, lamented rest;
Jehovah's melting affections yearn
To clasp his Ephraim to his breast."