"They are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away."--Our Lord.
"Well, then, did you not know about ten years ago one Temporary in your parts who was a forward man in religion? Know him! replied the other. Yes. For my house not being above three miles from his house he would ofttimes come to me, and that with many tears. Truly I pitied the man, and was not altogether without hope of him; but one may see that it is not every one who cries Lord, Lord. And now, since we are talking about him, let us a little inquire into the reason of the sudden backsliding of him and such others. It may be very profitable, said Christian, but do you begin. Well, then, there are in my judgment several reasons for it." And then, with the older man's entire approval, Hopeful sets forth several reasons, taken from his own observation of backsliders, why so many men's religion is such a temporary thing; why so many run well for a time, and then stand still, and then turn back.
1. The fear of man bringeth a snare, said Hopeful, moralising over his old acquaintance Temporary. And how true that observation is every evangelical minister knows to his deep disappointment. A young man comes to his minister at some time of distress in his life, or at some time of revival of religion in the community, or at an ordinary communion season, and gives every sign that he is early and fairly embarked on an honourable Christian life. He takes his place in the Church of Christ, and he puts out his hand to her work, till we begin to look forward with boastfulness to a life of great stability and great attainment for that man. Our Lord, as we see from so many of His parables, must have had many such cases among His first followers. Our Lord might be speaking prophetically, as well as out of His own experience, so well do His regretful and lamenting words fit into so many of our own cases to-day. For, look at that young business man. He has been born and brought up in the Church of Christ. He has gladdened more hearts than he knows by the noble promise of his early days. Many admiring and loving eyes have been turned on him as he took so hopefully the upward way. But a sifting-time soon comes. A time of temptation comes. A time comes when sides must be taken in some moral, religious, ecclesiastical controversy. This young man is at that moment a candidate for a post that will bring distinction, wealth, and social influence to him who holds it. And the candidate we are so much interested in is admittedly a man of such outstanding talents that he would at once get the post were it not that the holder of that post must not have his name so much associated with such and such a church, such and such political and religious opinions, and such and such public men. He is told that. Indeed, he is not so dull as to need to be told that. He has seen that all along. And at first it is a dreadful wrench to him. He feels how far he is falling from his high ideals in life; and, at first, and for a long time, it is a dreadful humiliation to him. But, then, there are splendid compensations. And, better than that, there are some good, and indeed compelling, reasons that begin to rise up in our minds when we need them and begin to look for them, till what at first seemed so mean and so contemptible, and so ungrateful, and so dishonourable, as well as so spiritually perilous, comes to be faced and gone through with positively on a ground of high principle, and, indeed, of stern moral necessity. So deceitful is the human heart that you could not believe what compelling reasons such a mean-spirited man will face you with as to why he should leave all the ways he once so delighted in for a piece of bread, and for the smile of the open enemies of his church, and his faith, not to say his Saviour. You will meet with several such men any afternoon coming home from their business. Sometimes they have still some honest shame on their faces when they meet you; but still oftener they pass you with a sullen hatred and a fierce defiance. This is he who heard the word, and anon with joy received it. Yet had he not root in himself, but dured for a while; for when tribulation or persecution arose because of the word by and by he was offended. They went out from us, says John, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
2. Guilt, again, Hopeful went on, and to meditate terror, are so grievous to most men, that they rather choose such ways as will but harden their hearts still more and more. You all know what it is to meditate terror? "Thine heart shall meditate terror," says the prophet, "when thou sayest to thyself, who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" The fifty-first Psalm is perhaps the best meditation both of guilt and of terror that we have in the whole Bible. But there are many other psalms and passages of psalms only second to the fifty-first Psalm, such as the twenty-second, the thirty-eighth, the sixty-ninth, and the hundred-and-thirtieth. Our Lord Himself also was meditating terror in the garden of Gethsemane, and Paul both guilt and terror when he imagined himself both an apostate preacher and a castaway soul. And John's meditations of terror in the Revelation rose into those magnificent pictures of the Last Judgment with which he has to all time covered the walls of the Seven Churches. In his own Grace Abounding there are meditations of terror quite worthy to stand beside the most terrible things of that kind that ever were written, as also in many others of our author's dramatical and homiletical books. I read to you the other Sabbath morning a meditation of terror that was found among Bishop Andrewes' private papers after his death. You will not all have forgotten that meditation, but I will read it to you to-night again. "How fearful," says Andrewes, in his terror, "will Thy judgment be, O Lord, when the thrones are set, and the angels stand around, and men are brought in, and the books are opened, and all our works are inquired into, and all our thoughts are examined, and all the hidden things of darkness! What, O God, shall Thy judgment that day be upon me? Who shall quench my flame, who shall lighten my darkness, if Thou pity me not? Lord, as Thou art loving, give me tears, give me floods of tears, and give me all that this day, before it be too late. For then will be the incorruptible Judge, the horrible judgment-seat, the answer without excuse, the inevitable charge, the shameful punishment, the endless Gehenna, the pitiless angels, the yawning hell, the roaring stream of fire, the unquenchable flame, the dark prison, the rayless darkness, the bed of live coals, the unwearied worm, the indissoluble chains, the bottomless chaos, the impassable wall, the inconsolable cry. And none to stand by me; none to plead for me; none to snatch me out." Now, no Temporary ever possessed anything like that in his own handwriting among his private papers. A meditation like that, written out with his own hand, and hidden away under lock and key, will secure any man from it, even if he had been appointed to backsliding and reprobation. Bishop Andrewes, as any one will see who reads his Private Devotions, was the chief of sinners; but his discovered and deciphered papers will all speak for him when they are spread out before the great white throne, "glorious in their deformity, being slubbered," as his editors say, "with his pious hands, and watered with his penitential tears."
Thomas Shepard's Ten Virgins is the most terrible book upon Temporaries that ever was written. Temporaries never once saw their true vileness, he keeps on saying. Temporaries are, no doubt, wounded for sin sometimes, but never in the right place nor to the right depth. And again, sin, and especially heart-sin, is never really bitter to Temporaries. In an "exhortation to all new beginners, and so to all others," "Be sure," Shepard says, "your wound for sin at first is deep enough. For all the error in a man's faith and sanctification springs from his first error in his humiliation. If a man's humiliation be false, or even weak or little, then his faith and his hold of Christ are weak and little, and his sanctification counterfeit. But if a man's wound be right, and his humiliation deep enough, that man's faith will be right and his sanctification will be glorious. The esteem of Christ is always little where sin lies light." And Hopeful himself says a thing at this point that is quite worthy of Shepard himself, such is its depth and insight. He speaks of the righteous actually loving the sight of their misery. He does not explain what he means by that startling language because he is talking all the time, as he knows quite well, to one who understood all that before he was born. Nor will I attempt to explain or to vindicate what he says. Those of you who love the sight of your own misery as sinners will understand what Hopeful says without any explanation; while those who do not understand him would only be the more stumbled by any explanation of him. The love of the sight of their misery, and the unearthly sweetness of their sorrow for sin, are only another two of those provoking paradoxes of which the lives of God's true saints are full--paradoxes and impossibilities and incoherencies that make the literature of experimental religion to be positively hateful and unbearable to Temporary and to all his self-seeking and apostate kindred.
3. But even where the consciences of such men are occasionally awakened, proceeds Hopeful, in his so searching discovery of Temporaries, yet their minds are not changed. There you are pretty near the business, replied his fellow; for the bottom of all is, for want of a change of their mind and will. Now, one would have been afraid and ashamed for one moment to suspect that Temporary's mind was not completely changed, so "forward" was he at first in his religion. But, no: forward before all his neighbours as Temporary was, to begin with, yet all the time his mind was not really changed. His forwardness did not properly spring out of his true mind at all, but only out of his momentarily awakened conscience and his momentarily excited heart. A sinner with a truly changed mind is never forward. His mind is so changed that forwardness in anything is utterly alien to it, and especially all forwardness in the profession of religion. The change that had taken place in Temporary, whatever was the seat of it, only led him to bully men like Christian and Hopeful, who would not go fast enough for him. "Come," said Pliable, in the beginning of the book, "come on and let us mend our pace." "I cannot go so fast as I would," humbly replied Christian, "because of this burden on my back." It is a common observation among mountaineers that he who takes the hill at the greatest spurt is the last climber to come to the top, and that many who so ostentatiously make spurts at the bottom of the hill never come within sight of the top at all. And this is one of the constant dangers that wait on all revivals, religious retreats, conferences, and even communion seasons. Our hot fits, the hotter they are, are only the more likely, unless we take the greatest care, to cast us down into all the more deadly a chill. It is this danger that our Lord points out so plainly in His parable of apostasy. The same is he, says our Lord, that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while. In Hopeful's words, his mind and will were never changed with all his joy, only his passing moods and his momentary emotions.
Multitudes of men who are as forward at first as Pliable and Temporary were turn out at last to have no root in themselves; but here and there you will discover a man who is all root together. There are some men whose whole mind and heart and will, whose whole inward man, has gone to root. All the strength and all the fatness of their religious life retreat into its root. They have no leaves at all, and they have too little fruit as yet; but you should see their roots. Only, no eye but the eye of God can see sorrow for sin--secret and sore humiliation on account of secret sin--the incessant agony that goes on within between the flesh and the spirit, between sin and grace, between very hell and heaven itself. To know your own evil hearts, my brethren, say to you on that subject what any Temporary will, is the very root of the whole matter to you. Whatever Dr. Newman's mistakes as to outward churches may have been, he was a master of the human heart, the most difficult of all matters to master. Listen, then, to what he says on the matter now in hand. "Now, unless we have some just idea of our hearts and of sin, we can have no right idea of a Moral Governor, a Saviour, or a Sanctifier; that is, in professing to believe in them we shall be using words without attaching any distinct meaning to them. Thus self-knowledge is at the root of all real religious knowledge; and it is vain,--it is worse than vain,--it is a deceit and a mischief, to think to understand the Christian doctrines as a matter of course, merely by being taught by books, or by attending sermons, or by any outward means, however excellent, taken by themselves. For it is in proportion as we search our hearts and understand our own nature that we understand what is meant by an Infinite Governor and Judge; it is in proportion as we comprehend the nature of disobedience and our actual sinfulness that we feel what is the blessing of the removal of sin, redemption, pardon, sanctification, which otherwise are mere words. God speaks to us primarily in our hearts. Self-knowledge is the key to the precepts and doctrines of Scripture. The very utmost that any outward notices of religion can do is to startle us and make us turn inward and search our hearts; and then, when we have experienced what it is to read ourselves, we shall profit by the doctrine of the Church and the Bible." My brethren, the temper in which you receive that passage, and receive it from its author, may be safely taken by you as a sure presage whether you are to turn out a Temporary and a Castaway or no.
Now, to conclude with a word of admission, and, bound up with it, a word of encouragement. After all that has been said, I fully admit that we are all Temporaries to begin with. We all cool down from our first heat in religion. We all halt from our first spurt. We all turn back from faith and from duty and from privilege through our fear of men, or through our corrupt love of ourselves, or through our coarse-minded love of this present world. Only, those who are appointed to perseverance, and through that to eternal life, always kindle again; they are kindled again, and they love the return of their lost warmth. They recover themselves and address themselves again and again to the race that is still set before them. They prove themselves not to be of those who draw back unto perdition, but of those that believe to the saving of the soul. Now, if you have only too good ground to suspect that you are but a temporary believer, what are you to do to make your sure escape out of that perilous state? What, but to keep on believing? You must cry constantly, Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief! When at any time you are under any temptation or corruption, and you feel that your faith and your love are letting slip their hold of Christ and of eternal life, then knot your weak heart all the faster to the throne of grace, to the cross of Christ, and to the gate of heaven. Give up all your mind and heart, and all that is within you, to the one thing needful. Labour night and day in your own heart at believing on Christ, at loving your neighbour, and at discovering, denying, and crucifying yourself. It will all pay you in the long run. For if you do all these things, and persistently do them, then, though you are at this moment all but dead to all divine things, and all but a reprobate, it will be found at last that all the time your name was written among the elect in heaven.
The perseverance of the saints, the "five points" notwithstanding, is not a foregone conclusion. The final perseverance of the ripest and surest saint is all made up of ever-new beginnings in repentance, in faith, in love, and in obedience. Begin, then, every new day to repent anew, to return anew, to believe and to love anew. And if all your New-Year repentances and returnings and reformations are all already proved to be but temporary--even if they lie all around you already a bitter mockery of all your professions--still, begin again. Begin to-night, and begin again to-morrow morning. Spend all the remainder of your days on earth beginning. And, ere ever you are aware, the final perseverance of another predestinated saint will be found accomplished in you.
* LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH