Remedies For Backsliding
By George D. Watson
I mention as the first remedy for heart wanderings, great self-abasement before God; that the evil which the soul has fallen into is to be squarely faced and acknowledged without palliation, or excuse, or self-defense; that self must be utterly dethroned; that God must be honored; that His truth must be magnified at the expense of self-annihilation.
It is a great gift from God that any backslider will have the grace to repent and confess and return to Jesus; but for this divine gift which God puts in the heart of the wanderer, the soul would never return to Him. The gift of repentance is just as truly divine and a token of God’s favor as the gift of the Holy Ghost. It takes grace to acknowledge our faults, to turn against ourselves, and to show ourselves no quarter (Rom. 2:4).
Get Right With God
Another remedy is a fixed determination to get right with God and with our fellows at any cost! We are going to the judgment day, and we need to have a judgment-day righteousness in our souls here!
This determination to get right may involve only an apology to a little child, or a friend, or the confession of a mistake; it may involve great restitution; it may involve a loss of wealth, and what the world calls honor and reputation; it may involve the loss of friends; it may involve abject poverty, going to prison, or banishment.
It may involve sufferings which may tear the heart into a thousand tatters, and melt the eye with grief; but if it involves everything the imagination can conceive, the loss and pain themselves are infinitely better than to have the frown of God and the flames of hell!
God alone knows who really love Him; He alone can judge His creatures. When the soul seeks nothing in the universe but the smile of God and fears nothing in the universe but offending Him, it will gladly consent to pay any price to get perfectly right with Him!
Look to the Lord for Consolation
Next to this fixed determination to get right is the steady, constant looking to Jesus alone for all deliverance and comfort.
The soul never knows in how many ways it leans on creatures for comfort, until it is so situated as to be utterly denied creature consolation, and then it sees that in Jesus there is a sufficiency for all its needs. It takes a degree of mortification almost inexpressible to get the soul where it seeks its happiness only from God. The infinite love and compassion of Jesus stretches out before the soul into an ever-widening ocean, in proportion to the felt need of the soul.
The most marvelous promises in the Bible are offered to souls who have wandered from God, if they will return. The Lord says He is "married" to the backslider; and represents Himself as bending with a mourning heart over souls that have wandered into sin, by saying: "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?" (Hos. 11:8; also read Jeremiah 3:11-15).
"Return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity…I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely…I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily…His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon" (Hos. 14:1-6).
The soul must fix its gaze for deliverance and restoration and comfort alone on Jesus, the Son of God! It may receive much consolation, encouragement, and help from the church and loved ones and the saints; but it should not expect anything, except from God. This is the surest and shortest road to solid comfort.
Another remedy is a fixed determination never to yield to discouragement. However huge the trial, however cloudy the sky, the soul must settle it that all discouragement is from the devil, and is always injurious (Luke 18:1).
The psalmist says: "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise Him" (Psa. 43:5).
Discouragement is the very opposite of presumption. If Satan has tempted the soul in presumption, he then opens the artillery of discouragement, and thus attacks the soul, not only to make it sin, but with the counter piece to keep it in sin.
In every emergency in Christian conflict, hopefulness is the open door to victory. Millions of saints in heaven can very well remember when they were passing through the identical trials and temptations and repentance which are now taking place in human souls, and could they but speak to us, they could give us such transcript of their lives as would, in many cases, exactly fit us.
Sorrow for Sin
Another remedy is to cultivate a feeling of constant sorrow for sin. There are two kinds of sorrow for sin; one worketh death, the other life. After the elements of guilt and depravity and remorse have been entirely purged away, there should be a deep tenderness of pervading, thoughtful sorrow for sin. Paul had this constant sorrow for having persecuted the saints. It did not in the least weigh him down, but put wings to his devotion.
And although Jesus knew no sin in Himself, yet in taking upon Himself the sin of the world, He spent His life in a continual sorrow for sin. It lay upon His heart as an afflicted child lies upon its mother’s breast. It was in Him as a life-long, quiet, supernatural fountain of love, and this same sorrow in us is our safeguard from wanderings.
Sorrow for sin as a fixed fact in the soul is the only parallel in our lives for the constant sorrow that Jesus had for the world. It consists in a growing hatred of sin, and a growing sensitiveness of the conscience as to what sin is. As we gaze upon the refulgent glory of God, it strengthens our vision to more clearly detect what is imperfect and unworthy.
Abiding sorrow for sin will give no resting place for the self-life to put its foot. We grow in a divine sadness, but with such humility and faith that it does not allow of disquietude. True sorrow for sin as a fixed grace in the soul is affectionate more than self-criminating. It is a quiet fountain of tenderness, which inclines to prayer; and though it is a sorrow, it is at the same time a supernatural sweetness.
This very grief for offending God draws the soul closer to God. This is the principle Jesus referred to when He said those who had much forgiven would love much (Luke 7:36-50).
It lives by the fountain of Jesus’ blood; it weeps silent tears; it embraces the compassion of God with an inexpressible longing. This affectionate sorrow for sin delivers the soul from many spiritual dangers; it throws a tenderness into the whole character; it makes us deep and flexible to the least touch of God; it takes out all our harshness; it makes us charitable toward all others. Constant sorrow for sin keeps the heart melted, so that there is not an ache or a calamity in one of Christ’s members which does not awaken our sympathy, and makes us more keenly alive to the dangers of this world, and the advantages of being in heaven.
Our Faults a Spur to Greater Humility and a Closer Walk with God
Another remedial step is a fixed determination to make all our failures the occasions for a higher ascent in grace. Although it may sound like a paradox (the spiritual life is full of paradoxes), we are to make our falls to be steppingstones to our ascensions into greater altitudes of grace.
This has been done in tens of thousands of lives. It has happened that those who have suffered the greatest declensions of grace, on being thoroughly aroused, girded themselves with such a spirit of mortification and heroic faith that, as Paul intimates, they "revenge themselves" by a self-oblation and a closer cleaving to God, which they would never have done but for their failures (2 Cor. 7:6-11).
This is the best way to be avenged on the devil for all his malice and damage to us. It is in this way that God can make absolutely all things in heaven, earth, or hell, in success or failures – all things – work together for our good!
But it must be remembered that this greater victory is through the condition of his perfect humiliation and repentance. It is only when the heart turns in perfect loyalty of love to God – that the Holy Ghost makes everything work for its own good (Rom. 8:28).
Let us determine to make every fault, every blemish, every mistake in our lives a spur to more humility and a closer walk with God! This is the most divine use we can make of them.
Self-Denial Encircling the Life
Another remedy against backsliding is self-denial. This is the very essence of all spiritual victory. Just as self-indulgence grows on us in a thousand imperceptible ways, so self-denial should encircle our entire lives. The doctrine of fasting in connection with prayer is not much practiced. But if the example of all the saints in the Scriptures and in the history of the church is worth anything, we see that they reached their highest degree of spiritual strength through fasting, abstinence, and self-denial in the bodily appetites, in mental pleasures, in social ease, and of all worldly gratifications.
Tens of thousands of Christians are constantly eating too much, talking too much, gratifying their whims, their pleasures, in such measure as to grieve the Holy Ghost, and lay foundations of much secret sin, if not terrible outward falls. Luxurious ease and self-indulgence are the poison in the lives of thousands of Christians.
In ages gone by, asceticism went to extremes; but in this age, it is sadly rare to find true, heroic self-denial. Peter tells us that we are to "arm ourselves with the principle of self-denial." This principle of self-denial is to extend to the use of our senses, guarding our eyes, our words, our manners, our social behavior, our plain and modest attire – all extravagance, in any direction, that would give the body or the intellect power over the interior spirit.
If we look upon self-denial as a hard irksome thing, over which our nature whimpers and whines, it shows we have not yet entered the real crucifixion of self. When we pass certain points in grace, self-denial will have a secret joy and heavenly sweetness attending it which far exceeds in peace and joy all the overindulgence of nature. When we break down on self-denial, we drift in our spiritual life!
The Deep Resolve to Be Always Industrious
Another safeguard is spiritual industry. Perhaps there is no greater or more incorrigible vice in religious lives than spiritual laziness. It is a sort of omnipresent evil, like a satanic gravitation, that pervades every atom of life, and pulls everything towards a center of idle repose.
Religious laziness is the moth of Christian life. It eats up the garments of spiritual experience, and when we attempt to clothe ourselves for real conflict, we find our garments crumbling to pieces, having been eaten through with the insidious moth of idleness.
How much time have we lost in our lives by late sleeping, lounging, gadding, useless visitations, long and worthless conversation! How much of our time has been worse than wasted!
Let us heartily repent, and set ourselves like a flint against this demon of idleness; let us rise earlier and spend more time in prayer, in reading spiritual books, doing good works of every kind; let us have a righteous hatred to everything slovenly and slouchy and silly.
Wesley’s motto was, "Never be unemployed, and never be triflingly employed." St. Alphonso vowed that he would never knowingly waste a moment. We can always find something to do in reading, or writing, or praying, or conversing to a definite spiritual end, or attending to all our ordinary work in a spirit of meditation.
Many think that a life of great spiritual industry would prove tiresome; but the opposite is the case. When the mind is always occupied with something divine or useful, it brings a restful and sweet quietness in the life which nothing else can do and takes the hurry and impetuosity out of the soul.
We must not only be industrious, but be so in spiritual things – or we decline in grace!
The old-fashioned virtue of perseverance is a good medicine to keep all hearts from wandering. Perseverance is the backbone of spiritual life, out of which grow the ribs of all other virtues.
Perseverance is the cure for those souls whose experience consists in spasmodic blessings. Many Christians rely upon some instantaneous blessing which they receive in a crisis of prayer, and then expect that blessing to run through life, like a sort of wound-up machine. With them life consists of great droughts, with intermittent freshets. The droughts kill all their crops, and the great, instantaneous freshets wash away their fences, and cut great trenches in their land. Could these souls once get the true idea of constant, unvarying perseverance, it would serve like a divine inundation, which gently waters the ground without washing the seed out. Perseverance is the remedy in seasons of great discouragement and temptations and loneliness (Luke 18:1).
Whatsoever your failure has been – though all things in heaven and earth seem against you; though your difficulties seem insurmountable; though your falls have been so numerous as to wear out the patience of your best friends, and exhaust the charity of great saints; though every virtue seems to have left your soul – yet if you have perseverance, the omnipotent God will lay hold upon that single disposition of your will, and pull you through to everlasting victory. God will always pull us through, if we have enough fiber in our nature to endure the pull!
God takes delight in doing things for us that other people despaired of ever seeing done. You will find thousands of saints in heaven who have said, with Micah,
"I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him, until He plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: He will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold His righteousness" (Mic. 7:7-9).
Perseverance is the axletree on which the sphere of a Christian life revolves.
Independent Obedience to God
Independent obedience to God is another remedy for heart wanderings, because it causes toughness to the moral fiber. Thousands have waned in their spiritual life because they limited their obedience to the mere standard of other Christians or to the conservative opinion of other saints.
God never duplicates the spiritual life in any two persons, and every one who walks with Him will be called upon to say and do and experience things somewhat unlike them, or any other person. To save His children from aping each other, He will resort to terrific methods of separating and individualizing them; for He is determined that they shall obey Him, and not each other.
There is a realm of Christian counsel and uniformity of faith and practice; yet, within this range, the Holy Ghost ordains that all who are made perfect shall follow in an individual orbit. No saint perfectly obeyed God in the world that he did not have to say things and do things that nobody else on earth exactly agreed with. If you perfectly obey God, you will have to do some things outside of the judgments or tastes of your best friends. Nobody on earth could have been found to sanction the offering up of Isaac. Joseph’s family did not agree with the imprudence of his dreams. If Paul had consulted the eleven apostles, he never would have done the things he did. Daniel went against the advice of all the old, sober heads in refusing the king’s meat and wine. Perfect obedience must be independent, calm, settled and fearless.
How many thousands of souls have weakened in faith by not obeying God on some point, great or small, just because it did not meet the sanction of the circle of friends in which they moved!
He that makes a path in the air for all the birds, and a channel in the earth for all the streams of water, has ordained the line of obedience for each and every child of His; and if we yield ourselves up on boundless humility and persevering prayer and utter abandonment to the Holy Ghost, He will lead us along His line, and He will never lead another soul to take just the track He gives us.
The fear of fanaticism has prevented thousands from independent obedience. Some may ask, "How shall I know that I am not going into fanaticism under the delusion of obedience?" If, on any line of obedience, however singular it may be to others, you have a lowly spirit, a sweet and tender flow of love, an eye single to pleasing God and not yourself, and a boundless charity for others who do not follow your example, you may know you are led of God.
But if, on any individual leading you feel an impetuous, hasty, harsh, uncharitable disposition – if you feel something within you that seems to push you in a hurry, or makes you denunciatory of others, or makes you want to force others to do as you do – then you may know it is the devil.
It is impossible to be too independent and all-fearless – as long as the soul is kept in an ocean of lowly, tender, disinterested love – supreme love to God and to His Word, and love to our neighbor as to ourself (Matt. 22:36-40).
Our Thoughts Are Architects
As another remedy for weak and flagging obedience, I mention, keep the mind stayed on God and the things of His kingdom (Isa. 26:3-4; Psa. 1:1-6). There can be no greater safety in the spirit-life, to keep out the ingress of evil things, than for the mind to be always in a state of divine meditation. The intellect cannot do this of its own power; but if the spirit-nature is possessed by the Holy Ghost, then the inner spirit, uniting itself to the intellect, can keep it almost constantly on God or His attributes, or the operations of His grace, or the mysteries of His providence, or the revelations of His Word.
Nothing can be more dangerous than sinful wanderings of thought. As all outward sin must necessarily be committed first in the mind, so on the other hand, all enlargements of grace, all the altitudes of devotion, or progress in experience, must first take place in a spiritual thinking of the mind. Our thoughts are architects, which fashion all the bright, glittering castles of grace in which we find our true habitation in the kingdom of God.
We should be careful not to think too much of the past. About the only good thinking of the past can do for us is to serve for the deepening of our humility over its sinfulness, and the widening of our thankfulness because of the overwhelming mercies from the Lord.
But in the fullness of the Spirit, we are not to think of the past in such a way as to be disheartened, or to pine over its loss, or to be entangled with it; we are to be detached from all things in the past, as a bird may be supposed to be detached from last year’s nest, which it flies by, unheeding its empty and dilapidated state, because its whole nature is filled with the glory of the present summer (Phil. 3:1-14).
We are to form a fixed habit of keeping the mind on the things of God. We are to keep Christ in the mind. We are to think of the traits of His character; of His relation to the Heavenly Father and to the Holy Spirit; think of what God is now doing for us; think of the saints and angels in heaven; think of the Divine Presence with us (Matt. 28:18-20; John 14:15-17; Acts 17:24-28).
We are to think of the coming of Jesus, and the things of His millennial kingdom; think of thousands of things pertaining to our future in the heavenly world, until the whole life becomes an unbroken, calm, sweet vision of the supernatural world and supernatural beings.
This habit of deep, divine thoughtfulness will work wonderful effects in our lives. It will put a slow, measured gentleness in our words and manners; it will shut off everything loud and boisterous and rash and impatient; it will keep our inner senses opened to the whispers of the Holy Ghost or the touch of our guardian angel.
It will make prayer easy at any time of day; it will wean us from the visible and sensuous things of the world; it will make God and heaven bright realities to us; it will put a calmness in our features and a sweetness in our expressions, and a delicate polish in the actions of the soul. Our thoughts make up the overwhelming part of our lives; what we think, we are, or else will soon become. So let us keep our mind on heavenly things. Let us go to sleep every night thinking of God or Jesus, and wake up every morning with the thought of God in our mind.
This can be done, and is the safeguard against the entrance of evil things, for even to the most diligent in this direction there will still be enough mental lapses and evil suggestions injected by demons to form a daily trial, and to drive us to prayer. The apostle speaks of "casting down imaginations…and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
Blessed Paraclete! Helper Alongside
The climax of all remedies is to cultivate intimate communion with the Holy Spirit – recognize the Holy Spirit as having charge of you, and of your life, and all your temporal and social and spiritual affairs. Behave toward the Holy Spirit as you would toward Jesus were He visibly with you. Talk to Him; express love to Him; make Him your constant Companion in everything in life – in the small, as in great things.
Ask Him to reveal the Father and the Son to you; ask Him to show you every duty, to reveal to you things to come (John 16:13-14). Make Him your intimate Friend; listen to His voice; expect Him to impress you with the daily will of God.
Form a habit of prompt and unquestioning obedience to His tender impressions upon your heart. Let the Holy Spirit be an invisible ocean of spotless light, in which you bathe. Leave all your infirmities and sorrows or tears, and all your vicissitudes or temperament and life, into His personal power. Be always craving a deeper, stronger union with Him.
Remember that perpetual progress will alone prevent retrogression.
Appreciate one smile or reproof from the Holy Spirit more than all the applause of angels or men. Accept every correction and reproof that He speaks into your mind; love His rebukes infinitely more than the praises of others.
Remember, it is the great work of the Holy Ghost to impart the Christ-life, to unfold the divine personalities in our spirit, and expect Him to do great things in this direction; He will work marvels if we firmly expect them.
The love of God our Father, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.