"I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him." (Hosea 14:4).
The above quotation is a state promise of God to raise again each and every one of His people from backsliding; and his reason for such a wonderful promise. May God grant us, first, to meditate upon backsliding; and then, discuss the reason for this promise; finally, study the certainty of this promise being fulfilled.
A thorough understanding of what is meant by the term BACKSLIDING is necessary before we can determine whether or not we have experienced it. If the true meaning is revealed to us from the Lord and we have experienced it, then, not until then, we will truly know what it means. Backsliding is falling from or sliding back from a higher position you once occupied. Sliding back is returning toward a lower position from which you were once raised. Have you experienced it?
Have you experienced the backsliding heart? Solomon says in Proverbs 14:14, "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways ..." The heart being the seat of affection (or love) sometimes becomes cold and leaves the "first love" as did the church at Ephesus – "Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because THOU HAST LEFT thy first love" (Rev. 2:4). Have you experienced a falling from the joy of salvation and made to pray as David? – "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation" (Psalms 51:12). Have you ever fallen from the sweet enjoyment of that precious faith in Christ to such an extent that you are finally made to cry – "Help thou mine unbelief?" (Mark 9:24). Do you ever question and pray as Cowper expresses in the hymn we sometimes sing:
"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 then enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But now I find an aching void
The world can never fill.
Return, O holy Dove, return
Sweet messenger of rest;
I hate the sins that cause my mourn,
And so disturb my breast."
We are made to realize an aching vacancy caused by the absence of the Holy Spirit that once so wonderfully calmed our troubled breast. Sometimes we cherished the memories of the soul-stirring experiences we once had and long for their return. We fall into many temptations and wonder if God has forgotten to be gracious. We get so cold and lifeless in our feelings that when we attend church, converse, and sing with the brethren we are convinced that our actions are mere formality and the very essence of hypocrisy! I am persuaded that each and every one of God's little children many times experience this backsliding of heart when the brethren do not see anything amiss in their conduct. This backsliding in heart is the experiences within the child of God that effects his conscience and inner thinking that sometimes results in great turmoil within that is not necessarily made manifest at all times in conduct. Inward backsliding results in great grief to the person experiencing it, while backsliding in conduct effects others. We now want to consider backsliding in conduct.
When we walk and conversation of a child of God is contrary to that which is becoming to His saints, backsliding in conduct is experienced. Sometimes our conduct grieves the brethren and causes them to lose confidence in our sincerity and profession. Sometimes our conduct is so obviously ungraceful that it "gives occasion for the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme." Read the 11th and 12th chapters on 2nd Samuel, which gives an account of David's disgraceful conduct, Nathan's conversation with David, and David's confession; and you note an outstanding example of backsliding in conduct. You will also see why this terrible sin haunted David all through his life even though he repented and was given the promise that he would not die. Read the 22nd chapter of St. Luke and you will find that Peter was delivered to Satan for a sifting and that Peter denied three times that he had any knowledge of Jesus, even though Peter had affirmed that he would follow Jesus into prison and death. One of the writers said that he cursed and swore. Peter fell from the remembrance of his oath to Jesus and what Jesus had told him he (Peter) would do. This outward unbecoming conduct of Peter proved to him his utter inability of himself to stand, even though he had once been enabled to stand. Past grace does not suffice for the present or future. When God withholds His grace (unmerited divine favor) from us, we are as certain to fall as Peter and David did. When we are shown that we are in this fallen state it causes us to do as Peter: "weep bitterly"; and to greatly yearn and pray for the lifting up that only the unmerited divine favor of God can perform.
We stumble and fall so often that we are made to pray to God to give us grace, give us grace! Thanks be to God that, "We have access by faith into the GRACE, WHEREIN WE STAND AND REJOICE IN HOPE OF THE GLORY OF GOD." "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12). Paul gave the experiences in the travel of the Israelites (in the 10th chapter of the 1 Corinthians) to warn us that even though we be baptized into Jesus Christ and into his death, have eaten of the spiritual meat and have drunk of the spiritual drink, that we may murmur, commit fornication, tempt Christ, be an idolater, and thus not be well pleasing unto God. (1 Cor. 10:5). All this happened to Israel for ensamples or types and are written in the scriptures for our admonition. (I Cor. 10:11).
Paul exhorted the brethren to flee from these ungodly things. John was ordered of the Lord to write to the seven churches of Asia pointing out to each church it characteristics – some of which were not very becoming - exhorting them to repent or turn from their heretical departings from doctrine and practice. God-called, God-qualified, God- sent, and God-used ministers of this age exhort and admonish brethren and churches to turn from these unscriptural doctrines and practices which are of men, and to implore God's grace to lift them by His power from the fallen state in which they are in.
The spirit of jealousy prompts brethren and ministers to stir up strife and confusion and falsely accuse brethren. Self-conceit prompts some to stubbornly contend for their petty opinions to the extent of causing divisions. Ministers and members of the church seeking praise of men and self-exaltation design and scheme – using the corrupt tactics of politics – to set themselves on coveted high places, to the destruction of the peace in the church and churches. Bars of fellowship are raised under the false cloak of standing for "right order and doctrine". THESE THINGS OUGHT NOT TO BE!! May God fulfill His promise to heal our backsliding.
May God enable us to see our many faults, confess them to our brethren and repent. May we seek to unit instead of divide; acknowledge our wrongs instead of justifying ourselves for unbecoming actions; Forgive our brethren instead of taking vengeance; esteem them instead of considering them less than we; do good unto them instead of evil; yes, love them instead of hating. It must be revealed unto us that we are at fault before we can desire to be rid of it. It must be proven to us through sad experience that we cannot rid ourselves from these ungodly actions before we can sincerely pray to God for deliverance. He hears our cry and will fulfill His promise by healing our backsliding.
His promise to heal our backsliding is positive and sure. He says, "I will" – (not, I may or I can), heal their backsliding." It is God that does it and His people are made to know it by revelation and experience. It is because of God's great love for us and that FREELY (without merit) given that we are lifted up by His grace from these backslidden positions.
We do not deserve it, but He raises us up and sets us on high. We deserve to be cast down to never rise again, but, because of His great love, God extends His mercy toward us, lifting us up many times so that we do not fall FINALLY away. Have your thoughts been so sinful and your actions so ungodly that you felt it would be unjust for God to forgive you? Notwithstanding this just banishment you deserved, God's anger was turned from you and you again experienced God's mercy and grace. Why? "For mine anger is turned away from him."
God's anger was appeased. His anger was not withdrawn without due punishment. This punishment was turned from God's people upon His only begotten Son, Christ Jesus. He bore the punishment for our sins, - past, - present, and future, - that we might enjoy His mercy. If Christ was punished on account of so many sins, is it a great thing that we should be scourged, chastened, and rebuked by Him in order that we be corrected – brought into the right path – and learn obedience by the things we suffer? His promise is to do an effectual work of it. It is because of God's love for us that we are chastened by the rod of correction. It is because of His wonderful love that we are forgiven of our many sins. If God forgave us so much, is it a great thing for us to forgive those who trespass against us? Our sins are so great that when we are enabled to behold our true position regarding holiness, the little offences of our brethren sink into insignificance and unimportance. We are then in the position to forgive our brethren. We can then pray from the heart, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." When it has been revealed unto that God is so merciful to us then we are merciful unto those with whom we come in contact. When the love of God dwells in our hearts it causes us to have love one for the other and to manifest it in our actions and conversation. These graceful experiences quoted above show that he fulfills His promise to heal our backsliding.
Time will not permit us dwelling longer upon this subject in our written meditations; and it is needless to say that volumes of our thoughts while writing are unexpressed because of the infirmity of not being able to write as fast as thoughts come into the mind. We trust, however, that God will bless you to glean some edification and comfort from the words that are written. May He enable us to see our own faults instead of the petty faults of our brethren, that we may be meek, humble, and lovely in our walk and conversation. May He heal our backsliding that we may be raised up closer unto Him and to each other. May we be enabled to repent – individuals and churches – that there might be Uniting instead of dividing.
Elder E. J. Lambert
Signs of the Times
EDITORIAL: Vol. 121, No. 7 – July 1953