By Reuben Archer Torrey
HOW TO DEAL WITH BACKSLIDERS
One of the largest classes found in the inquiry room, and in all personal work in our day, are those who are, or call themselves, backsliders. They are not all alike by any means, and they ought not all to have the same treatment. There are two classes of backsliders:
I. CARELESS BACKSLIDERS, THOSE WHO HAVE NO GREAT DESIRE TO COME BACK TO THE SAVIOR.
1. There is perhaps no better passage to use with such than Jeremiah 2:5:
"Thus saith the Lord, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?"
Drive God's question contained in the text right home to their hearts, "What iniquity have you found in the Lord?" Dwell upon God's wonderful love to them, and show them the base ingratitude and folly of forsaking such a Savior and friend. Very likely they have wandered away because of the unkind treatment of some professed Christian, or of some minister, but hold them right to the point of how the Lord treated them, and how they are now treating Him. Use also Jeremiah 2:13:
"For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water."
Have the inquirer read the verse, and ask, "Is not that verse true? What does the Lord say that you forsook when you forsook Him?" "The fountain of living waters." "And to what does He say you turned?" "Broken cisterns that can hold no water." "Is not that true in your experience? Did you not forsake the fountain of living waters, and have you not found the world broken cisterns that can hold no water?" I have yet to find the first backslider of whom this is not true and I have used it with many. Then illustrate the text by showing how foolish it would be to turn from a fountain of living water to broken cisterns or muddy pools. If this verse does not accomplish the desired result, use Jeremiah 2:19:
"Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts."
When they have read it, ask them if they have not found in it an "evil thing and bitter" that they have forsaken the Lord their God. It is well sometimes to go over the misfortunes and troubles that have come since they forsook the Lord, for it is a fact as every experienced worker knows, that when a man who had had a real knowledge of Christ backslides, misfortune after misfortune is likely to overtake him. Proverbs 14:14, the first half of the verse, is also a good passage to use:
"The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways."
1 Kings 11:9 can also be used:
"And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice."
One of the best passages to show the folly and evil results of backsliding is Luke 15:13-17. Go into detail in bringing out the point of the picture here given of the miseries that came to the backslider in the far country.
2. It is well sometimes to use Amos 4:11-12:
"I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrha, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord. Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel."
Before the passage is read you can say, "There is a passage in the Old Testament that contains a message from God to backsliding Israel, and I believe it is a message for you also. Then have him read the passage carefully and after he has read it, ask him what the message of God to backsliding Israel was. "Prepare to meet thy God." Then say to him, "It is God's message to you too, as a backslider tonight, to 'prepare to meet thy God.'" Go over this again and again until the thought rings in the heart of the man.
II. BACKSLIDERS WHO ARE SICK OF THEIR WANDERING AND SIN, AND DESIRE TO COME BACK TO THE LORD.
These are a very different class from those just mentioned, though of course they are related. They are perhaps as easy a class to deal with as we ever find. There are many who once had a knowledge of the Lord who have wandered into sin, and who are now sick and tired of sin, and are longing to come back, but think that there is no acceptance for them. Point them to Jeremiah 3:12-13,22:
"Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger forever. Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the Lord.
"Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God."
This will show them how ready the Lord is to receive them back, and that all He asks of them is that they acknowledge their sin and return to Him.
Hosea 14:1-4 is full of tender invitation to penitent backsliders, and also shows the way back to God.
"O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips. Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy. I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him."
I use this passage more frequently than almost any other with the class of whom we are speaking, especially the first and fourth verses. I show them first of all that God is inviting the backslider to Himself, and second that He promises to heal their backsliding and love them freely, and third, that all that He asks is that they take words of confession and return to Him (verse 2). The following verses all set forth God's unfailing love for the backslider, and His willingness to receive him back:
"But thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel.
"Thou hast bought me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy sacrifices: but thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities. I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." Isaiah 43:22,24-25.
"He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand? Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me. I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: RETURN UNTO ME; FOR I HAVE REDEEMED THEE." Isaiah 44:20-22.
"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:11-13.
"And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men's hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell." Deuteronomy 4:28.
"(For the Lord thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them." Deuteronomy 4:31.
"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." 2 Chronicles 7;14.
One of the most useful verses in dealing with an intelligent backslider who wishes to return to the Lord is 1 John 2:1-2:
"My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation of our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."
Often it is helpful to give illustrations of great backsliders who returned to the Lord, and how lovingly He received them. For this purpose you can use Mark 16:7:
"But go your way, tell his disciples AND PETER that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you."
This tells of Christ's loving message to Peter after he had so grievously sinned, and deliberately denied his Master. 2 Chronicles 15:4 and 33:1-9, 12-13 give illustrations of great backsliders who returned to the Lord, and how lovingly He received them.
Luke 15:11-21 is perhaps the most useful passage of all in dealing with a backslider who wishes to return, for it has both the steps which the backslider must take, and also a picture of the loving reception from God that awaits him.
When a backslider returns to Christ, he should always be given instructions as to how to live so as not to backslide again. These instructions will be found in Chapter Five, Section II.