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ANSWER TO THE FOLLOWING QUERY:
What are the best Means of Preservation against Back
It is usual with us to confine the idea of a backslider to a good man. I apprehend the Scriptures do not use the term always in this sense. Backsliding always supposes a religious profession; but does not necessarily imply that this profession is sincere. The ungodly Israelites, who had not the fear of God in them, are termed backsliders in Jer. ii. 19. Saul and Judas would be accounted backsliders in the scriptural sense of the term, as well as David and Peter. The backslidings of the latter were partial, and of the former total. But I shall suppose the querist to be a good man,
and that he feels a proneness to depart from the living God: perhaps some particular temptation may entangle him, or easy-besetting sin perplex him: he may have had several narrow escapes from open scandal, and may be apprehensive that, in some unguarded moment, he may be drawn into that which may ruin his future peace and usefulness.
Were I a stranger to such exercises; I should be but ill qualified to write upon the subject. The case of backsliders has lately been much impressed upon my mind.* Great numbers, I am persuaded, among professing Christians, come under this denomination. At present, I shall only offer three or four directions to the consideration of the querist, or any other whose case they may suit.
* The writer of this article takes the liberty of saying, that having been forcibly struck a few months since with certain cases of this sort, he wrote out his thoughts at the time, on the species, symptoms, and effects of backsliding from God, with the means of recovery; and which will probably soon appear in print.
First, Every mean should be used that may stop the avenues of temptation, or prevent its coming in contact with the evil propensities of the heart. If there be nitre in our habitations, it becomes us to beware of fire. Such was the counsel of our Lord to his disciples, in a season of peculiar danger: Vi`atch and pray that ye enter not into temptation. He had himself entered that field, and came qut a conqueror: but he knew what was in man, and counselled them rather to avoid than court the contest. In cases where the heart begins to be seduced by temptation, it will soon become restless, solicitous, and importunate; it will moan after it, and be exceedingly fruitful in devices to get into the way of it; it will persuade conscience, for once at least, to be silent; it will blind the mind to the evil, and paint the desirableness of the good; and if all this will not do, it will promise to be only a looker-on, or that thus far it will go, and no farther. But if thou hast any regard to God or his cause, or to the welfare of thine own soul, CONSENT THOU NOT! Temptation leads to sin, and sin to death. Whatever company, amusement, occupation, or connexion, has frequently caused thee to of'end; that is the eye that requires to be plucked out, lest thy soul bleed in the end, beneath the stroke of God's displeas
Secondly, Beware of the first stages of departure from God. All backslidings begin with the heart. Jer. ii. 19. From hence are the issues of life. Private prayer, it may be, at first becomes wearisome; no communion
with God in it: it is then occasionally neglected: henee public ordinances cease to afford their wonted pleasure; Christian society is dropped; the world takes up your attention, and you have little or no time to spare for religion: some carnal acquaintance, perceiving you to be coming, draws you on; recommends you to read some one of the liberal productions of the times, by which you are to learn that there is no need to be so rigid in religion, and no harm in frequenting the theatre, or in devoting a part at least of the Lord's day to visiting or amusement. These are a few of the seeds of death, from whence have sprung many a bitter har. vest.
“Beware of sin, then, crush it at the door;
Thirdly, If thou hast in any degree been drawn aside, give no rest to thy soul till thy sin is crucified, and thy conscience reconciled by the blood of the cross. It is too common for sin to be worn away from the memory by time and new occurrences, instead of being washed away at the gospel fountain; but where this is the case, the stain is not removed, and its effects will sooner or later appear, perhaps in a form that may cause the ear of every one that heareth it to tingle.
He that honoreth me, saith the Lord, will I honor; and he that despiseth me, shall be lightly esteemed. If we care so little for the honor of God's name, as to be unconcerned for secret faults, we may expect he will care as little for the honor of ours, and will give us up to some open vice, that shall cover us with infamy.
Fourthly, If some extraordinary temptation, or easybesetting sin perplex thee, bend not thy attention so much to the subduing of that particular evil, as to the mortification of sin in general; and this not so much by directly opposing it, as by cherishing opposite principles. We may heal an eruption in a particular part of the body, and yet the root of the disease may remain, and even be gathering strength. We may also be employed in thinking of our sins without gaining any ascendency over them: on the contrary, they may, by those very means, obtain an ascendency over us. go about to quench a fire by directly contending with it, we shall presently be consumed by its flames; but by applying the opposite element, it is subdued before us. It is thus that the Scriptures direct us. Walk in the spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh. The heart cannot be reduced to a vacuum: if spiritual things do not occupy it, carnal things will. It is by walking with God, and conversing with the doctrine of the Cross that we shall become dead to other things; and this will go to the root of the evil, while other remedies only lop off the branches.
Is any serious person (a minister in particular) justifiable in associating with those whose conduct he knows is, on many accounts, extremely reprehensible?
The above query is of great importance, as it respects not only the conduct of ministers and hearers, but also the discipline of the church of Christ.
As worldly-minded men prefer associating with those whose dispositions are most congenial with their own, so do heavenly-minded men prefer the company of those whose lives and conversation evince their love to God and man.
Hence it may be inferred, that as the tree is known by its fruit, so may a disciple of Christ be generally known by his companions.
It may not however, be improper to remark, that there is a striking difference between voluntary familiarity, and a necessary and prudent civility; and that it is not possible for a man in business (were he ever so serious) altogether to avoid intercourse with men of the world, so long as he has a business to attend: and, further, That there is also a great difference between premeditated and accidental transgressions, especially in professors. The late pious commentator, Mr. Henry, says,* "It is one thing to overtake a fault by contrivance, deliberation, and full resolution in sin; and another thing to be overtaken in a fault by the surprize of temptation.” In which latter case, the Apostle Paul, in the same chapter, commands those who are spiritual, to restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; but in the former case, he recommends excommunication, as the most probable mean of reclaiming such deliberate and resolute sinners. Having thus premised, I shall now briefly detail such particulars respecting ministers, hearers, and the church as will, I trust, be agreeable to all who can say with the Psalmist, “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
“The office of a minister is so dignified, and of such moment, that he should in all things be a pattern of good
* Gal. vi.