The Backslider Invited
James Smith, 1842
“Return again to me! says the Lord.” Jeremiah 3:1
After the Lord has condescended to bring His people to a knowledge of Himself; after they have known His love, felt His power, and tasted that He is gracious; after they have left the world, joined the church, and lived in sweet fellowship with Jesus; after they have renounced self, embraced the cross, and taken the Lord to be their portion forever — they are prone to backslide! “For Israel slides back like a backsliding heifer.” Hosea 4:16. “They walk in the imaginations of their evil hearts, and go backward, and not forward,” Jeremiah 7:24. until “their backslidings become many,” Jeremiah 14:7, and “are increased.” Jeremiah 5:6.
And such is the depravity of the heart, the hardening nature of sin, and the power of Satan over us — that they sometimes go on until the words of God respecting Israel are applicable unto them; “My people are bent to backsliding from me.” Hosea 11:7. “They turn back and deal deceitfully like a deceitful bow.” Psalm 78:57. Then “the backslider in heart is filled with His own ways.” Proverbs 14:14. Then . . .
the affections are alienated from God,
the conscience becomes hardened,
the soul is beclouded,
the spirits are weakened;
and barrenness, carelessness, and coldness characterize the man. There is then . . .
no power in prayer,
no savor in ordinances,
no entrance into the word,
no access to God,
no sweet fellowship with Jesus.
Everything loses its savor. And comfort, zeal, spirituality, and gratitude decay, until sometimes there is scarcely a desire left for God and godliness. The Bible is neglected, the means of grace are slighted, and communion with saints is given up. There is scarcely any difference between such, and the mere moralist — only the principle of divine life still remains within, buried under a heap of corruption. And when the Lord again puts forth His power in the soul, to rouse it from this fearful lethargy — then it manifests itself; and the soul, awakening from such a state, is filled with despondency, doubt, and dread!
No sooner does the man begin to reflect upon His conduct, to “search and try His ways, to turn again to the Lord,” Lam. 3:40 — but Satan comes in with his temptations to drive him to despair. Before, the devil could persuade him that all was safe, God was gracious, the promise sure, and there could be no danger; but now, he insinuates that all is over, God is angry, the sin peculiar, and his state desperate; that it is vain to conceive that the Lord will now receive, pardon, and “restore the joys of His salvation.” Psalm 51:12.
But no sooner does the soul begin to feel, to relent, and to mourn — but Jehovah begins to manifest His fatherly love. “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning Himself.” Jeremiah 31:18. Then comes the touching expostulation, “Have I been a wilderness unto Israel — a land of darkness? Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? yet my people have forgotten me, days without number!” Jeremiah 2:31, 32.
But does He disown them, cut them off, and disinherit them? Oh no! Hear His words unto them, “Oh, how can I give you up, O Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah or demolish you like Zeboiim? My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows. No, I will not unleash my fierce anger. I will not completely destroy Israel, for I am God and not a mere mortal. I am the Holy One living among you, and I will not come to destroy!” Hosea 11:8-9.
“Is not Israel still my son, my darling child? says the LORD. I often have to punish him, but I still love him. That is why I long for him and surely will have mercy on him!” Jeremiah 31:20. “O Israel, return unto the Lord your God; for you have fallen by your iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord; say unto Him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously. I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for my anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel; he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon.” Hos. 14:1, 2, 4, 5.
“Return O backsliding Israel, says the Lord; and I will not cause my anger to fall upon you; for I AM MERCIFUL, says the Lord, and I will not keep anger forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the Lord your God, and have not obeyed my voice, says the Lord. Turn, O backsliding children, says the Lord; FOR I AM MARRIED unto you. You have played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, says the Lord.” Jeremiah 3:1, 12:14.
“The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses from all sin. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:7,9. “From the sole of the foot even unto the head, there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores; they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.” “Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet — they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson — they shall be as wool.” Isaiah 1:6, 18. “You have not called upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me, O Israel. You have made me to serve with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities. I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and will not remember your sins.” Isaiah 43:22-26.
“Be astonished, O you heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid; be you very desolate, says the Lord. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water!” Jeremiah 2:12, 13. “O my people, what have I done unto you? and wherein have I wearied you? testify against me.” Micah 6:2. “Remember these, O Jacob, and Israel; for you are my servant; I have formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you shall not be forgotten by Me. I have
blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions, and as a cloud your sins! Return unto me; for I have redeemed you!” Isaiah 45:21, 22.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart!” Jeremiah 29:11-13 . “I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me — the breath of man that I have created. I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him!” Isaiah 57:16-18
God looks upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; He will deliver His soul from going down to the pit, and His life shall see the light.” Job 33:27, 28. “For His anger endures but a moment; in His favor is life; weeping may endure for a night — but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5. “For you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon you.” Psalm 86:5. “I acknowledged my sin unto you, and my iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Psalm 32:5. “There is forgiveness with you, that you may be feared.” Psalm 130:4. “You have in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption; for you have cast all my sins behind your back. The Lord was ready to save me.” Isaiah 38:17-20. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither is His ear heavy, that it cannot hear.” Isaiah 59:1. “To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against Him.” Dan. 9:9.
“This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all His troubles.” Psalm 34:6 “A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench.” Matthew 12:20.
So the backsliding prodigal left his father’s house, wasted is substance, began to be in need, returned to his father, confessed his folly, acknowledged his wickedness and unworthiness, and was received with joy. Luke 15. And so shall it be with you, my poor backsliding brother, when you are brought to confess your sin, mourn over your folly, and return to your dishonored father; your case cannot be desperate — while God is gracious, the promise true, and Jesus is an advocate before the throne. 1 John 2:1.
Jehovah “will turn again, He will have compassion upon you, He will subdue your iniquities, and cast all your sins into the depth of the sea!” And you shall exclaim, “Who is a God like unto you, that pardons iniquity, and passes by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retains not his anger forever, because he delights in mercy!” Micah 7:18.
Oh, why did I my Savior leave,
So soon unfaithful prove;
How could I your good Spirit grieve,
And sin against your love?
My God, my God, to You I cry;
You only would I know;
Your purifying blood apply,
And wash me white as snow!
Behold, for me the victim bleeds,
His wounds are opened wide;
For me the blood of sprinkling pleads,
And speaks me justified.