In the grand hymn penned by John Wyeth “Come Thou Fount” the third stanza reads “O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be; May Thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to Thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it; seal it for Thy courts above.”’
Most everyone will readily admit that “prone to wander” is not a foreign concept. It is something that, because of the “world, the flesh and the Devil,” believers will struggle with until they leave their body and this world for heaven. In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet took a whole nation to task because of their wanton wandering spiritually. He called them backsliders:
“Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done?” (3:6) “Backsliding Israel committed adultery.” (3:8) “Backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah.” (3:11) “Return backsliding Israel saith the Lord.” (3:12) “Turn O backsliding children saith the Lord for I am married to you.” (3:14) “Return ye backsliding children and I will heal your backslidings.” (3:22)
An old preacher said of the backslider: “It is miserable to be a backslider. Of all the unhappy things that can befall a man, I suppose it is the worst. A stranded ship, an eagle with a broken wing, a garden covered with weeds, a harp without strings, a church in ruins—all these are sad sights, but a backslider is a sadder sight still.”
That state did not occur overnight. There is an observable progression (or should I say regression) that leads to a backslidden state. In fact, Jeremiah details the steps of spiritual regression that took Israel, God’s chosen nation, to the backslidden state that he addresses. Follow with me that prophet’s points in chapter 2:
- Forgetfulness, vss. 31,32 Forgetfulness contains the seeds of spiritual rebellion. “Can a maid forget her ornaments or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number.” Jer. 2:32 In verse 31 Jeremiah had quoted them as saying “We are lords; we will come no more unto thee.” i.e., lords, as beasts that had broken their yoke; unharnessed people, rambling about unbridled.
Forgetfulness breeds forgetfulness “days without number.” What had they forgotten?
- They had forgotten God. Ps.78:11: “And (they) forgot His works and His wonders….”
- They had forgotten the name of God: Jer.23:27: “Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbor, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal.”
- They had forgotten God’s Word. Hosea 4:6: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God….”
- They had forgotten their resting place. Jer.50:6: “My people hath been lost sheep…they have gone from mountain to hill; they have forgotten their resting place.”
- They forgot God their Savior. Ps.106:21: “They forgot God their Savior which had done great things in Egypt.”
When believers forget the works of God, the Word of God, the name of God, their resting place in God and God their Savior, then they have taken step 1 in the backsliding downward spiral:
“He that lacketh these things is blind and cannot see afar off and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.” (2 Pet.1:9)
- Step two is compromise, v. 33. When we slide back spiritually, we trim our ways and often justify it by claiming to do it in love. “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” (James 4:4)
In the pre-World War I days of America, Teddy Roosevelt blasted the German-American population for what he considered at that time “divided loyalties.” He said, “America is not a polyglot boarding house.” He called them “hyphenated Americans?” And said “If a man is an American and something else, he is not an American.” The application for believers is that we are either for Him or against Him, and a “worldly Christian” is a contradiction of truth. Billy Sunday said, “Worldly Christian? You might as well speak of a heavenly devil.”
The backslider will not only go down and away from where he once stood with Christ, but he will take others with him. Jeremiah said: “Why trimmest thou thy way to seek love? Therefore hast thou also taught the wicked ones thy ways.” (2:33)
Compromise is dangerous. During the Civil War the man who lived by the North/South border not wanting to be identified with either side decided to wear blue pants and a grey coat. The result was not a pretty one: The Yanks shot him in the coat and the rebs shot him in the pants!
In the later half of the 19th century in England, truth was taken to the stake and Charles Haddon Spurgeon would have nothing of the compromise of his day. Of the prince of preachers, Joseph Parker, a contemporary, said, “The only colors Mr. Spurgeon knew were black and white. With him you were either up or down; in or out; alive or dead. As for middle zones…he only looked upon them as heterodox and as implacable enemies of the Metropolitan Tabernacle.”
- Step three: Living in known sin, Jer.2:34: “In thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents: I have not found it by secret search, but upon all these.”
- Fourth: Insensitivity to sin, Jer.2:35–, trying to justify sin and attempting to avoid judgment for it. (Read Jeremiah 42:14-16 where God reminds His people that they can run from Him–to Egypt– but they cannot hide from Him and the “sword which ye feared shall overtake you there….”)
Hard words? Yes. Tough lessons? To be sure. But backsliding was not unique to Israel. It would eventually bring upon them the judgment of captivity in 722 B.C. when Assyria swept down and took captive 10 of the 12 tribes, the northern kingdom, the “10 lost tribes” which will not be returned again to their Israeli homeland until the King of Kings accomplishes His promised restoration at His 2nd Coming.
So, learn with me of the severity of the sin of backsliding. We who have been born again are each capable of doing what the backslidden nation of Israel did. There is a remedy and it is stated plainly in 2 Pet. 1:10 right after Peter warns us about having forgotten that we have been purged from our old sins: “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.”
“The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways: and a good man shall be satisfied from himself.” (Provs.14:14)