Sometimes I hear people quote Proverbs 22:6 as if it were a promise. The verse reads:
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
People quote this verse often toward parents who are struggling with a rebellious child. I have watched with my own eyes children remain in rebellion despite the fact that they were raised in God-fearing homes. The fact that Christ was preached did nothing to keep them from turning to a life of sin.
Now I don’t mean to discourage parents. I am a parent myself of three boys. I know the blessing and struggles of seeking to raise my boys to be God-honoring, God-fearing, Christ-exalting men of God. I pray almost daily for my boys to be saved and to know Christ on their own. I don’t want my boys to be “forced” to become disciples of Jesus. I want them to see their own need for a Savior and to repent on their own by the power of the Spirit (John 6:44; 16:8-11). As someone once said, “God has no grandchildren. Only children.” This is biblically true (Galatians 3:26).
In my devotional reading, I was struck by the last four kings of Judah. Judah, unlike Israel, had had good kings who followed the Lord with their whole hearts. The last five kings summarized the kings of Judah. The five are:
- Hezekiah – who was a good king and sought the Lord. God delivered him and Judah from the hands of Sennacherib king of Assyria.
- Manasseh – who was a wicked king at first before he repented and turned back to God. Prior to repenting, Manasseh was on a track to be one of the wickedest kings in Judah’s history.
- Amon – who was a wicked king. He did not humble himself like his father Manasseh did (2 Chronicles 33:23) so he was put to death by his own servants.
- Josiah – who was a good king. Josiah restored true worship according to the Law of Moses in Judah (2 Chronicles 35). Sadly, Josiah did not heed the word of the Lord and died in battle.
- Jehoahaz – was the king of Judah only for a short time. The Bible does not say if he was good or evil. This ends the line of the kings before deportation to Babylon.
So in essence, we have four kings to work with in regard to parenting here. Notice that Hezekiah was righteous but his son Manasseh was not righteous. Yet in this case, Proverbs 22:6 was true. Manasseh did repent and return to the God of his father. Amon, however, did not repent. Perhaps Amon saw the wickedness in Manasseh before he repented and enjoyed it. We don’t know. All we know is that Amon was wicked and died. Yet the son of Amon, Josiah, was a good king. In this case, Amon did not raise his son to fear God nor regard God yet Josiah walked with God from a young age (age 8 according to 2 Chronicles 34:1-2). The sovereignty of God must come into play when we see children of wicked folks turn and repent before God.
My point here is encourage us parents (myself especially). I am not a perfect parent. I am not a perfect man. I am not suggesting that I am wicked. I pray that I am walking in the Spirit before a holy God (Galatians 5:16-17). I know the command of God (1 Peter 1:15-16) and I want my boys to see the gospel in my life but more than anything, I want my boys to see the grace of God in forgiving me (1 John 1:9). It’s not that I seek to live in sin. I pray that I don’t. I want to be a 1 John 3:7 man. I want my boys to see my faith and imitate my faith (1 Corinthians 11:1). Part of that faith is realizing that I need Jesus always. I always need His grace to empower me to godliness (Titus 2:12). I want my boys to see that in spite of my imperfections, I love a perfect God who saves me by His grace alone (2 Corinthians 5:21). I want them to see that I am not striving for holiness in my own flesh but by the grace of God.
Furthermore, even God has disobedient children (Hebrews 12:5-11) yet He is perfect! Sometimes our children disappoint us and break our hearts but God is faithful to us. Like our Father, we too should respond with much grace and mercy toward our wayward children. We should always pray that our children will love the Lord and serve Him always with a pure heart.
The gospel must be our focus in parenting. Because we have children of Adam, none of us (self included) have perfect offspring. Scripture is clear that all have sinned (Romans 3:23). We are raising sinners. Apart from the grace of God, we will still be in our sins and dead to God (Ephesians 2:1-6; Titus 3:1-7). Watching our sinful children grow should cause us to love them, to pray over them, to encourage them toward repentance, and to be an example of the gospel to them. The example of the gospel is not one of absolute sinless perfection and not letting them see our faults. Sadly, this was my dad. He would not confess his sins to us. He wanted me to see him as pure and holy but, like my children, I saw his errors and his faults. I saw his sins. Like Proverbs 20:9, he could not hide them from me or my sister. Yet the gospel helps us to teach our children that Christ died for sinners like us (Romans 5:8-9). 1 Peter 3:18 says that Christ died for the unrighteous. That is me. He died for my sins (Galatians 1:4). He was crucified because of my sins (Isaiah 53:4-6). I am only saved because of Christ Jesus and not anything or anyone else (Hebrews 7:25).
I want my boys to see Christ in me. Yes I want them to see me seeking God, seeking to be holy. Yet I also want them to see that I too need His grace and forgiveness. I am not a perfect man by far. I long to be pure and holy before God (2 Corinthians 7:1) and through faith in Christ, I am set apart by His grace (Hebrews 10:10, 14). I am thankful that God is a forgiving God who does not cast me aside but He loves me and disciplines me and calls me to repentance by His Word. I want to live a life of trusting God before the eyes of my boys so that, like Manasseh, they will repent and trust in Christ alone for salvation.
I have been listening to the Rethinking Hell conference that was recently held in Texas in which a group of scholars and disciples came together to discuss the doctrine of hell. For the most part, they were there to promote conditionalism over traditionalism. The conditional teaching is that the Bible stresses that eternal life is a gift from God to the redeemed (John 3:16; Romans 6:23). They also stress that God alone is immortal (1 Timothy 6:16) and that man is not immortal apart from God (Genesis 3:22). Therefore, those who are not saved are cast into hell and are destroyed or annihilated (2 Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 20:11-15) and do not live forever in hell where they are forever tormented.
The traditional view of hell is that people are immortal and have eternal souls. Therefore, all people will live forever either in heaven or in hell. The lost are cast into hell where they are tormented day and night forever (Revelation 20:10).
Now to be fair here, both views believe in hell. Traditionalists have often assumed falsely that conditionalists deny hell but this is not the case. Evangelical conditionalists reject universalism and believe that only those in Christ Jesus will be saved. They reject eternal conscience torment in hell. This is the main difference between conditionalists and traditionalists.
I think that both views, however, should make us feel uncomfortable about hell. Whatever viewpoint you hold to, our hearts should despise hell. It is not a kind thought that people will go to hell. Hell, Jesus said, was made for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Hell was not made for man. Yet men and women go to hell. Scripture is clear on this issue. I find the complete rejection of hell to be unbiblical. Hell is a real place that will destroy even death and hades itself (Revelation 20:14). The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, teach that there is no hell. The unbeliever is annihilated in the grave by God. They simply cease to exist. Yet Scripture is clear that hell is a real place that will be the ultimate judgment of God on unbelievers.
And this makes me uncomfortable. It’s not that I will reject the teaching. I cannot because the Bible teaches hell. Yet I don’t like it. I don’t like that people go to hell and I want to see them saved from the coming wrath of God (1 Thessalonians 1:10). I want to see people repent and come to saving faith in Christ who is able to secure us eternal life in His presence. Salvation from the wrath of God only comes through the blood of Jesus (Romans 5:8-9). The Lord Himself said in Ezekiel 18:32, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” 2 Peter 3:9 is nearly the same. God’s heart is for the lost to repent and be saved.
1 Timothy 2:4 says that God desires all people to be saved and He has given proof of this by sending His Son to die for the sins of all (John 1:29; 3:14-18). The atonement shows us the great love of God for the world and His desire to save sinners (1 John 2:1-2). His heart is for the world to be saved through faith in Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20).
Therefore, hell is something that breaks my heart. I want to see the lost saved because God sent His Son to die for sinners whom He does not want to go to hell (I know that my Calvinist friends will not accept my points here). I hear people speak of hell is delight, as if they can’t wait for sinners to be cast into hell. I hear disciples talk about enjoying the thought of this person or that one in hell. I hear people speak of hell not being hot enough for that sinner. Yet the Bible shows the mercy of God for the lost. His heart is not for them to destruction. He wants sinners to be saved. I understand that sinners will be cast into hell as part of God’s just judgment against their sins yet this doesn’t mean that I don’t pray for living sinners to be saved. I want sinners to come to faith and not to hell. I don’t want to see cultists cast into hell. I don’t want to see Muslims cast into hell. I don’t want to see anyone cast into hell. I want them to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15). I take no joy in the thought of hell.
What is the solution? Is it to reject hell? I think not. I think that the biblical answer is to preach the gospel. In the book of Acts, the disciples never preached on hell. They didn’t try to scare people into salvation. They didn’t preach that people should repent or burn. They preached the simple gospel of salvation in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Over and over again in Acts, the disciples preached the gospel of Acts 2:38: repent and be baptized. People did just that. The Holy Spirit enabled the sinners to come to faith in Christ (John 6:44; Acts 16:14-15) and people were justified before God through faith (Acts 13:38-39; 15:11). The message of Acts was clear: repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus (Acts 4:12). Hell was not the focus. Judgment was (Acts 17:30-31).
I believe that we should warn sinners about the wrath of God. I believe that we should call sinners to believe the gospel of life (Acts 5:20). The focus of our preaching is to preach that salvation comes through faith in Christ who shed His blood for our sins (Acts 20:28). Our focus should be to preach that eternal life is found only in Christ Jesus (Acts 13:48).
In an upcoming post I want to examine the gospel as preached in the book of Acts. It is interesting to note what the disciples focused on in their preaching in Acts.
In conclusion, hell is real. Hell is horrible. Hell is not a place we should want people to go. Thankfully, I believe the Bible teaches that God has made provision for the lost to be saved through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are not saved by works or by our actions but the work of Christ alone (Titus 3:5-7). This gospel “which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). All sinners must hear the gospel to be saved (Romans 10:14-17) and this only happens in this life (Hebrews 9:27). All sinners will be cast into hell. However, this should break our hearts and should cause us to be moved to want to see people repent (2 Corinthians 5:10-11).
Curiously, I was browsing a few Calvinist blogs and found it funny that they stated that Arminianism is the dominant form of theology in the Western Church. They believe that Calvinism is facing a battle against the dominance of Arminianism in the church. It is they who are on the defense and not Arminians. Arminians, according to the blogs, dominant in the seminaries, in most denominations, in the seeker church movement, and in bookstores.
Really? Does reformation Arminianism really dominant? I would argue that it is neither Arminianism nor Calvinism that is the dominant theology in the Western evangelical church but it is semi-Pelagianism. I would go further and say that most people are semi-Pelagian and don’t even know that they are. This is especially true of seeker churches where theology places such a little roll in their emphasis. The seeker church has only one thing really in mind: how to attract sinners (seekers; unchurched) to their church. Their doctrinal introduction to Jesus is not through exegesis but through their show they call church services. This Jesus is presented as a loving and good Jesus who only wants the best for His wayward children. He is ever-loving and waiting and longing for them to return to Him and become one with Him and they can have this awesome relationship together. He’ll just meet them halfway if they will simply believe in Him. This is the message of most churches that I know in my area and that is neither Arminianism nor Calvinism but is semi-Pelagainism.
Many of the churches that I know that are truly reformation Arminian in their theology often do not ascribe to Arminianism. In fact, they often just say that they are non-Calvinists. This is true of many Pentecostal and Baptist churches that I know. While essentially teaching Arminianism, they prefer not to be labeled as Arminians. Some, out of fear of Calvinists, and some out of ignorance of Arminianism. Most churches I know who teach Calvinism usually identify themselves as Calvinists.
In terms of theology. I would argue that most evangelical works I see today (which, sadly, is not much) at bookstores are Calvinistic. John Piper. John MacArthur. Wayne Grudem. Matt Chandler. Mark Driscoll. David Platt. Albert Mohler. All these guys are Calvinists and all have produced best-selling books. The only Arminian I can think of (who clearly identifies himself as an Arminian) would be Roger Olsen.
In terms of denominations and seminaries, again I would argue that semi-Pelagainism dominates.
Obviously I am just one person and so I have a small window that I am judging from so I can only speak from that perspective. However, I see neither Arminianism nor Calvinism as dominating at this point.
I wish that the sin of homosexuality was just another sin that we must deal with as people. Along with the sins of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21), I would that we only had to deal with this sin like we do all sins. But our society forces the disciple to have to address this sin (more than other sins it seems). Of course, I believe that all sin is grievous to a holy God (1 John 3:4). I believe that the Bible teaches that wickedness cannot be in God’s presence (Psalm 11:5). I believe that God detests all sin including this sin.
Yet we find ourselves having to address this sin. Why? I don’t believe it is because we are opposed with seeking to “attack” homosexuals. Our job is simply to preach the biblical truth concerning any and every doctrine including sins. We the Bible pronounces something as sinful, we must do the same. Titus 2:15 says that disciples must “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” Our job is to preach the Bible and if this runs contrary to the culture then so be it. We must be faithful to God alone (Acts 5:29).
I do believe we must be careful with this sin. We must not make homosexuality the worst sin of all. It is sinful. It is wrong. It will keep people from salvation but the promise of God in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 is that God is able to deliver people from this sin (along with others). While we must preach that homosexuality is a sin, let us be faithful to also preach the grace of God in forgiving sinners who repent of their sins (Acts 2:38). Let us be faithful to the gospel message that there is hope in Christ Jesus and forgiveness in Him. Jesus offers the sinner freedom and we must warn all sinners of the wrath to come and that their only hope for redemption and salvation is found in the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed for our sins (1 John 2:1-2). There is no salvation found in merely telling people to “stop sinning” apart from revealing to them the precious truths of the gospel (Ezekiel 36:25-27; John 3:3; Ephesians 2:4). Sinners are only set free when the blood of Jesus washes away their sins and they have peace with God along with the precious gift of the Holy Spirit who enables us to live a godly life (Galatians 5:16-17; 1 Peter 1:15-16).
I watched Ray Comfort once share the gospel with a homosexual. He took the man through the Law to show him he was guilty of breaking the law of God (Romans 7:7). When he was done sharing the good news of the cross (Galatians 3:24), the man asked Ray if he believed God had a problem with his homosexuality. Ray answered the man, “Friend, you have confessed here today that you have violated the third, sixth, seventh and eighth commandments from God’s law. I think you realize that you have other worst sin other than just homosexuality that you must deal with.”
And that is the truth. People love their sins (Romans 1:18). People are not naturally seeking God (Romans 3:10). People want to steal, to cheat others, to kill, to hate, to blaspheme, and other sins. It isn’t simply just one sin that condemns us. It is our wicked hearts (Jeremiah 17:9). Homosexuality is simply another evidence of our sinfulness but it is not the worst sin nor the only sin we should preach against. All sin is wicked before a holy and pure God. All sin! And the answer for all sinners is the gospel. It is not simply to stop sinning apart from revealing to them the fact that God is able to give them a new heart, a pure heart, a holy heart. A person can truly repent only if the Spirit of God enables them to repent (2 Timothy 2:25).
My prayer is that God will save homosexuals but also all who love sin. Paul the Apostle reminds us disciples in Titus 3 that we once were wicked as well (v.3). We must, in the words of Steven Curtis Chapman, “remember our chains.” We must not forget what God has saved us from. Perhaps we have not stolen or murdered or done this sin or that but we must remember that we still needed God’s saving grace to be saved (vv.4-5). None of us can earn salvation. Jesus alone must be our salvation (John 14:6). Jesus is our righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9). Jesus is the only reason that we are saved now (Hebrews 7:25).
So let us preach against all sin (and not just homosexuality) but let us also be faithful to preach the grace of God to save sinners. The Lord is faithful to save the lost. He is still saving people by His grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Psalm 110:1 promises us that God will continue to save sinners till His enemies be made His footstool. I pray that the promise of Psalm 110:1 and Matthew 6:10 are the cries of our hearts. I long to see sinful people come to salvation in Christ Jesus (Revelation 5:9-10). It is the cry of my heart (Psalm 2:8-9). May the Church of Jesus Christ offer the sinner the grace and goodness of God through the faithful preaching of the cross (Romans 1:16-17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2:1-5). May the world not just hear the message of condemnation toward their sins but also the message of reconciliation that God has given us in the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
When I was a kid, the MLB All-Star game was fascinating to watch. It was cool to see players from the National League taking on the best from the American League. Yes there was the fan voting that typically allowed players who were not the best at their positions get on the teams as starters but they were usually pulled after one at bat and a few innings on the field to allow better players to play.
Now the All-Star game is suppose to mean something more than an exhibition game. After the tie debacle in 2002, MLB made the winner of the All-Star game the home field advantage team in the World Series. I wonder if this is real motivation for the Allstars? Perhaps a team in first such as Oakland might care but most teams don’t. I see no point in making an exhibition game into the deciding factor for home field in the World Series. Before 2002, MLB alternated the home field advantage between the leagues. I think what works best is the best record of the teams heading into the World Series. Last year, St. Louis and Boston had the same records but St. Louis had a slightly better divisional record.
The All-Star game also use to have more meaning before inter-league play. Now that teams regularly play each other, the All-Star doesn’t feature never before seen match ups. I can remember the 1980′s when Nolan Ryan would be facing Dave Winfield or Orel Hershiser facing Jose Canseco. Now we regularly get this week after week with inter-league play.
But I will say that out of the three major sports in the United States, the MLB All-Star game is the best. I am not an NBA fan and find their 133-130 score at their All-Star game to be pointless. I find the NFL All-Pro game to be the worst. In their passion not to get hurt, NFL players at the All-Pro game allow for easy scores, easy catches, easy tackles, etc. In other words, a pointless game. At least MLB players appear to try.
In the end, I think that the MLB All-Star game should be what it use to be: an exhibition with nothing on the line. These guys should count it an honor to be an MLB All-Star and play with passion for the fans. This is what the game is about after all: the fans.
I am not a soccer fan. Have never been. When I was a child, we played some form of soccer at recess when I was in school but I never played it on a team. I played all other major sports: football, baseball, and basketball. In fact, my time in my neighborhood revolved around the three big sports here in the United States.
After every World Cup, we get to hear how soccer is rising in the United States. Just the week I heard a soccer guy say that more children in the US are now playing soccer than playing baseball. He feels that in 20 to 30 years, the US will have a dominate soccer program at the World Cup level. One British soccer coach said that the Yanks will outplay England in just a few years.
For me, I don’t care. I am not a soccer fan. It is a boring sport to watch. I suppose if I played soccer, it might interest me more but it is boring to watch matches that are 0-0 for the entire game. Give me 24-14. Give me 10-6. Give me 99-92. The 2014 World Cup final featured Germany and Argentina. I was working while the match was being played but I didn’t even know who won till nearly 2 AM. I had to come home and pull up Fox Sports on my computer to know. And even then, I don’t really care. I just wanted to know the score and sure enough, Germany had to win in extra time because the match was scoreless. When Germany beat Brazil 7-1, I thought that that was a great score but 0-0 is boring. I want to see goals to keep my interest.
The flopping is also a bothersome point for me. Players will roll over the ground claiming to be hurt while barely getting touched by an opposing player. This act of lying is troublesome from a Christian worldview.
Do I think soccer will take off here in the United States? I think it can become a big sport but it will not out gain the NFL anytime soon. The NFL is huge! Soccer can make gains over baseball because (like soccer), baseball can be boring to watch (exceptions would be the playoffs and the World Series). I actually think the real sport that soccer can challenge here in the United States is not football, baseball, or basketball but hockey. No one here in the South plays hockey and no one that I knows even cares who won the NHL Stanley Cup (LA Kings won it). Here in the South, football is dominate and especially college football. Entire towns revolve around their local football teams. I know of towns that nearly the entire town turns out for their Friday night games. Football carries most sports programs in the South.
Soccer? Well time will tell. A high school football game will average 10,000 people while a soccer game might have 100. A college football game (here in my area) will average 85,000. A soccer game might get 1000. The top MLS team in attendance are the Seattle Sounders (40,000) but most MLS teams average under 20,000. The top NFL team in attendance was the Dallas Cowboys (88,000) with the NFL average over 70,000 per game.
I don’t doubt that the World Cup will generate some interest for a while for soccer fans but it will be a long time before soccer is a dominating sport here in the United States.
There has been much spoken against the doctrine of what is called free will by persons who seem not to have understood the term. Will is a free principle. Free will is as absurd as bound will: it is not will if it be not free; and if it be bound, it is no will. Volition is essential to the being of the soul, and to all rational and intellectual beings. This is the most essential discrimination between matter and spirit. Matter can have no choice, spirit has. Ratiocination is essential to intellect; and from these volition is inseparable. God uniformly treats man as a free agent; and on this principle the whole of divine revelation is constructed, as is also the doctrine of future rewards and punishments. If a man be forced to believe, he believes not at all: it is the forcing power that believes, not the machine forced. If he be forced to obey, it is the forcing power that obeys; and he, as a machine, shows only the effect of this irresistible force. If a man be incapable of willing good and willing evil, he is incapable of being saved as a rational being; and if he acts only under an overwhelming compulsion, he is as incapable of being damned. In short, this doctrine reduces him either to a puncture stans, which by the vis inertiae is incapable of being moved, but as acted upon by foreign influence; or, as an intellectual being, to nonentity.
The power to will and the power to act must necessarily come from God, who is the Author both of the soul and the body, and of all their powers and energies; but the act of volition and the act of working come from the man. God gives power to will: man wills through that power; God gives power to act, and man acts through that power. Without the power to will man can will nothing; without the power to work, man can do nothing. God neither wills for man, nor works in man’s stead, but he furnishes him with power to do both; he is, therefore, accountable to God for these powers.
It is only in the use of lawful means that we have any reason to expect God’s blessing and help. One of the ancients has remarked, “Though God has made man without himself, he will not save him without himself;” and therefore man’s own concurrence of will, and co-operation of power with God, are essentially necessary to his preservation and salvation. This co-operation is the grand condition, sine qua non, of which God will help or save. But is not this endeavoring to merit salvation by our own works? No: for this is impossible, unless we could prove that all the mental and corporeal powers which we possess come from and of ourselves, and that we hold them independently of the power and beneficence of our Creator; and that every act of these was of infinite value, to make it an equivalent for the heaven we wished to purchase. Putting forth the band to receive the alms of a benevolent man, can never be considered a purchase price for the bounty bestowed. For ever shall that word stand true in all its parts, “Christ is the Author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him.”
It is not for want of holy resolutions and heavenly influences that men are not saved, but through their own unsteadiness; they do not persevere, they forget the necessity of continuing in prayer, and thus the Holy Spirit is grieved, departs from them, and leaves them to their own darkness and hardness of heart. When we consider the heavenly influences which many receive who draw back to perdition, and the good fruits which, for a time, they bore, it is blasphemy to say, They had no genuine, or saving grace. They had it, they showed it, they trifled with it, and sinned against it; and therefore are lost.
What a comfortable thought it is to the followers of Christ, that neither men nor demons can act against them but by the permission of their heavenly Father, and that he will not suffer any of those who trust in him to be tried above what they are able to bear, and will make the trial end in their greater salvation, and in his glory!
Slothfulness is natural to man; it requires much training to induce him to labor for his daily bread: if God should miraculously send it, he will wonder and eat it; and that is the whole. “Strive to enter in at the strait gate,” is an ungracious word to many; they profess to trust in God’s mercy, but labor not to enter that rest. God will not reverse his purpose to meet their slothfulness: they alone who overcome shall sit with Jesus on his throne. Reader, “take unto thee the whole armor of God, that thou mayest be able to stand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand.” And remember that he only who endures to the end shall be saved.
If to “watch” be to employ ourselves chiefly about the business of our salvation, alas! how few of those who are called Christians are there who do watch! how many who slumber! how many who are asleep! how many seized with a lethargy! how many quite dead!
You have many enemies; be continually on your guard; be always circumspect: 1. Be watchful against evil. 2. Watch for opportunities to do good. 3. Watch over each other in love. 4. Watch that none may draw you aside from the belief and unity of the gospel.
He that is self-confident is already half fallen. He who professes to believe that God will absolutely keep him from falling finally, and neglects watching unto prayer, is not in a safer state. He who lives by the moment, walks in the light, and maintains his communion with God, is in no danger of apostasy.
Will it avail any of us how near we get to heaven, if the door be shut before we arrive? How dreadful the thought, to have only missed being eternally saved! to aim well and yet to permit the devil, the world, or the flesh, to hinder in the few last steps! Reader, watch and be sober.
For want of a little more dependence upon God, how often does an excellent beginning come to an unhappy conclusion! Many who were on the borders of the promised land, and about to cross Jordan, have, through an act of unfaithfulness, been turned back to wander many a dreary year in the wilderness. Reader, be on thy guard. Trust in Christ, and watch unto prayer.
He who changes from opinion to opinion, and from one sect or party to another, is never to be depended on; there is much reason to believe that such a person is either mentally weak, or has never been rationally and divinely convinced of the truth.
The apostle shows here five degrees of apostasy: 1. Consenting to sin; being deceived by its solicitations. 2. Hardness of heart through giving way to sin. 3. Unbelief in consequence of this hardness, which leads them to call even the truth of the gospel in question. 4. This unbelief causing them to speak evil of the gospel, and the provision God has made for the salvation of their souls. 5. Apostasy itself, or falling off from the living God, and thus extinguishing all the light that was in them, and finally grieving the Spirit of God, so that he takes his flight, and leaves them to a seared conscience and reprobate mind. He who begins to give the least way to sin is in danger of final apostasy: the best remedy against this is, to get the evil heart removed; as one murderer in the house is more to be dreaded than ten without. Every believer in Christ is in danger of apostasy while any remains of the evil heart of unbelief are found in him. God has promised to purify the heart, and the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin. It is, therefore, the highest wisdom of genuine Christians to look to God for the complete purification of their souls; this they cannot have too soon, and for this they cannot be too much in earnest. Who can adequately describe the misery and wretchedness of that soul which has lost its union with the Fountain of all good, and, in losing this, has lost the possibility of happiness till the simple eye be once more given, and the straight line once more drawn?
How strange is it that there should be found any backslider! that one who once felt the power of Christ should ever turn aside! But it is still stranger that any one who has felt it, and given, in his life and conversation, full proof that he has felt it, should not only let it slip, but at last deny that he ever had it, and even ridicule a work of grace in the heart! Such instances have appeared among men.
Where there are so many snares and dangers, it is impossible to be too watchful and circumspect. Satan, as a roaring lion, as a subtle serpent, or in the guise of an angel of light, is momentarily going about seeking whom he may deceive, blind, and devour; and, when it is considered that the human heart, till entirely renewed, is on his side, it is a miracle of mercy that any soul escapes perdition: no man is safe any longer than he maintains the spirit of watchfulness and prayer; and to maintain such a spirit, he has need of all the means of grace. He who neglects any of them which the mercy of God has placed in his power, tempts the devil to tempt him. As a preventive of backsliding and apostasy, the apostle recommends mutual exhortation. No Christian should live for himself alone; he should consider his fellow Christian as a member of the same body, and feel for him accordingly, and love, succor, and protect him. When this is carefully attended to in religions society, Satan finds it very difficult to make an inroad on the church; but when coldness, distance, and want of brotherly love take place, Satan can attack each singly, and, by successive victories over individuals, soon make an easy conquest of the whole.
“But he that lacketh these things:” he, whether Jew or Gentile, who professes to have faith in God, and has not added to that faith, fortitude, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and universal love, “is blind,” his understanding is darkened, and cannot see afar off, shutting his eyes against the light, winking, not able to look truth in the face, nor to behold that God whom he once knew was reconciled to him; and thus it appears he is willfully blind, “and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins” — has at last, through the non-improvement of the grace which he received from God, his faith ceasing to work by love, lost the evidence of things not seen: for, having grieved the Holy Spirit by not showing forth the virtues of Him who called him into his marvelous light, he has lost the testimony of his sonship; and then darkness and hardness having taken the place of light and filial confidence, he first calls all his former experience into doubt; — questions whether he has not put enthusiasm in the place of religion. By these means his darkness and hardness increase, his memory becomes indistinct and confused, till at length he forgets the work of God on his soul, next denies it, and at last asserts that the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins is impossible, and that no man can be saved from sin in this life. Indeed, some go so far as to deny the Lord that bought them; to renounce Jesus Christ as having made atonement for them; and finish their career of apostasy by utterly denying his godhead. Many cases of this kind have I known; and they are all the consequence of believers not continuing to be workers together with God, after they had experienced his pardoning love.
Here (2 Peter ii, 22) is a sad proof of the possibility of falling from grace, and from very high degrees of it too. These had escaped from the contagion that was in the world; they had had true repentance, and cast up “their sour-sweet morsel of sin;” they had been washed from all their filthiness, and this must have been through the blood of the Lamb; yet, after all, they went back, got entangled with their old sins, swallowed down their formerly rejected lusts, and rewallowed in the mire of corruption. It is no wonder that God should say, “The latter end is worse with them than the beginning:” reason and nature say, “It must be so;” and divine justice says, “It ought to be so;” and the person himself must confess that it is right that it should be so. But how dreadful is this state! How dangerous, when the person has abandoned himself to his old sins! Yet it is not said that it is impossible for him to return to his Maker; though his case be deplorable, it is not utterly hopeless; the leper may yet be made clean, and the dead may be raised. Reader, is thy backsliding a grief and burden to thee? Then thou art not far from the kingdom of God; believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved.
The backslider’s soul, before influenced by the Spirit of God, dilated and expanded under its heavenly influences, becomes more capable of refinement in iniquity, as its powers are more capacious than formerly. Evil habits are formed and strengthened by relapses; and relapses are multiplied, and become more incurable, through new habits.
A soul cut off from the flock of God is in an awful state! His outward defense is departed from him; and being no longer accountable to any for his conduct, he generally plunges into unprecedented depths of iniquity, and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. Reader, art thou without the pale of God’s church? Remember, it is written, “Them that are without, God judgeth.”
The backslider’s affections and desires are no longer busied with the things of God, but gad about, like an idle person, among the vanities of a perishing world. Swept from love, meekness, and all the fruits of the Spirit; and garnished, or adorned, decorated with the vain showy trifles of folly and fashion. This may comprise also smart speeches, cunning repartees, &c., for which many who have lost the life of God are very remarkable.
In a state of probation every thing may change. While we are in life we may stand or fall. Our standing in the faith depends on our union with God; and that depends on our watching unto prayer, and continuing to possess that faith that worketh by love. The highest saint under heaven can stand no longer than he depends upon God, and continues in the obedience of faith. He that ceases to do so will fall into sin, and get a darkened understanding and a hardened heart; and he may continue in this state till God come to take away his soul. Therefore, let him who most assuredly standeth take heed lest he fall, not only partially, but finally.
When probation ends, eternity begins. In a state of trial the good may change to bad, the bad to good. It is utterly absurd to say that the day of grace may end before the day of life. It is impossible; as then the state of probation would be confounded with eternity. The Scriptures alleged by some in behalf of their sentiment are utterly misunderstood and misapplied. There can be no truer proverb than, “While there is life there is hope.” Probation necessarily implies the possibility of change.