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TEXT: Proverbs 14:14a
SUBJECT: Baxter on Backsliding #1
Tonight, I hope to begin a new Puritan study. The teacher is Richard Baxter. The topic is backsliding.
MEANING AND VARIETY
"Backsliding" is just that: It is sliding back from God. Baxter says there are three kinds: doctrinal, mental, and practical.
1.Doctrinal backsliders are people who;
"Decline from faith to infidelity or decline to error about the meaning of the Scriptures".
In other words, they become unbelievers or heretics.
2.Mental backsliders are people whose;
"Hearts decline from the love of God and goodness...to some carnal vanity...at the same time, the thoughts of God grow less serious and pleasing...and the means which should kindle love are used with more dullness, remissness, and indifference..."
This is the kind of person whose outward life remains pretty much the same. He doesn't fall into gross sin; he doesn't renounce the faith; he doesn't quit going to church; he still reads the Bible and prays. But his heart is no longer in it.
3.Practical backsliders are people who;
"Fall from duty toward God or man; or fall into positive sins and turn to sensuality, worldliness, or pride".
This is the obvious backslider. He quits going to church; he no longer prays or reads the Bible; and so on. Or he starts drinking heavily; he leaves his wife for another woman; and sins of that kind.
Baxter has covered his topic pretty thoroughly. Every backslider--as far as I can say--falls into one or more of these categories. They fall into error; they fall into hypocrisy; they fall into visible sin.
But let's quit talking about "them" for a minute, and start talking about "you". Are you a backslider?
You haven't quit coming to Church. But how's your heart? It's possible to never miss a meeting, and still be backslidden. God once said,
"These people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me".
And then, how's your doctrine? Is the Gospel still precious to you? Does the Truth still matter? Do you still "Rejoice in [God's] Word as one who finds great treasure?"
Galatians is the roughest book in the New Testament. The longsuffering Paul lowers the boom on these people. He says they're "Bewitched"; he charges them with folly and warns them of damnation. What's their problem? There's not a word about fornication or theft or fighting. It's all about doctrine. Truth matters!
And then, what about your obedience? Is it starting to slack off? Are you giving into temptation more quickly and fully than before?
I'm not accusing you of anything. I'm just asking: Are you a backslider? If so, what are you doing about it? Not What are you intending to do about it? But What are you doing about it right now?
Before you can do anything about backsliding, you've got to know if you're guilty of it or not. Are you? Baxter is very helpful at this point.
He starts with five "False signs of declining". These things do not mean you are backsliding.
1."When poverty requires you to lay out more of your time, thoughts, and words about labor than some richer persons do".
Some people can't go to church very often because of their work. They don't read their Bibles as much as they'd like because they're so drained at the end of the day. Are these people backsliders? The Pharisee says they are. Of course he does--he's got no compassion! But Baxter says otherwise. He knows that some men have to work more than they'd like to to get by. He doesn't condemn them.
2."When age or sickness causes their memories to decay so they cannot remember a sermon so well as [they used to]".
3."When age or sickness take off the quickness and vigor of their spirits; so that they have not the lively affections in prayer or holy conversation or meditation or reading or hearing that they formerly had. But they are colder and duller and have less zeal in holy exercises".
4."When age or weakness or melancholy has decayed or confounded their thoughts, so that they cannot order or command them as they formerly could".
5."When age or weakness or melancholy has weakened their gifts, so that they are slower of understanding and less able in prayer or preaching or conversation to express themselves. All these are but bodily changes...and not to be taken as signs of a soul that is declining in holiness and is less accepted by God".
These four go together. Baxter assumes that sick, sad, or old people are not as mentally sharp or physically strong as they used to be. Their weakness is not the result of sin, but of age or illness. They must not confuse their weariness or lack of concentration with backsliding.
The Lord is not Pharaoh, demanding bricks without giving us the straw to make them.
If these things don't indicate backsliding, what does? Baxter gives twenty "signs of declining". I went through them pretty carefully, but couldn't find any to leave out. So, with little comment from me, here goes. You know you're backslidden when...
1."You grow bolder with sin or with the occasions of it, and temptations to it than you were when you were more watchful".
This means you hesitate less about your sins. And that you permit yourself to be tempted more often than you did when you were more devoted than you are now. Think about the places you now go or the movies you now watch. Once upon a time, you were more careful about temptations than you are now.
2."You make a small matter of those inward corruptions that once grieved you".
This is a sure sign of backsliding. When you care only about what you do--not what you are inside.
3."When you settle into a course of religion that puts your flesh to little cost in labor or reproach in suffering from the ungodly.
If your faith no longer demands self-denial, it's a faith in decline. If it no longer looks weird to unbelievers, it's backslidden.
4."When you are content in the daily, ordinary use of ordinances, though you find no profit or increase in grace by it; or communion with God".
Sometimes your prayer life or Bible reading will be dull and dead. This doesn't mean you're backslidden. But when you don't care that they are--then you're backslidden for sure.
5."When you grow cold to God and Jesus Christ, and have little converse with Him in the Spirit; and your thoughts of Him are few and cold and lifeless; and when your religion lies all in conversing with good men and good books and outward duties".
If all your spiritual talk is with men, you're backslidden. If I think of God--only to prepare a sermon, I'm backslidden. If we do good deeds without God in our hearts, we're backslidden.
6."When you become negligent of your hearts".
This speaks for itself. Religion without heart.
7."If the wonders of grace and love in Jesus Christ have not more of your thoughts than your own hearts".
This is a good thought. It is possible to neglect your heart, of course. And that's bad. But what's worse is becoming so focused on your heart and its sin that you forget a crucified and forgiving Savior. If you have, you're backslidden.
8."When spiritual helps are less [valued] and you grow indifferent to sermons, prayers, and sacraments you once could not live without".
Preaching, public prayer, the Lord's Supper, and so on, are not ways to fill up time! They're means of grace or channels of blessing. If they no longer do you good, then you're backslidden.
9."When you grow too regardful to the eye of men and regardless to the eye of God".
This is hypocrisy. And backsliding.
10."When you grow warmest about some [disputed], smaller matter in religion, more than the common truths and cause of Christ".
In other words, if you're excited about--let's say--the millennium, and not about Christ or prayer or evangelism, then you can be sure you're backslidden.
11."When going to church, you [value] more the fineness of speech, than the spirit and matter [of the sermon]."
This is a good comment. Some people go to church to be entertained. If the sermon is too long or not interesting enough, they dislike it--even if it's true and edifying. That suggest a carnal mind. And backsliding.
12."When you grow more indifferent of your company and set less by the company of serious, godly Christians than you did, and are almost as well pleased with common company and discourse".
The vigorous believer craves fellowship; the backslider prefers small talk. There's a place for both, of course, but when godly conversation starts boring you, you know you're backslidden.
13."When you grow more impatient of reproof of sin and [cannot bear] being told anything in you is wrong".
Are you sensitive about being corrected. Some people are unkind and obnoxious--I know that. But what about gentle reproofs? Do they make you mad too? If so, you're backslidden.
14."When your daily repentance becomes a lifeless work".
This is a sharp observation. I assume you confess your sins every day. This can become a dead routine. Your sins must be confessed--but not only that. They must also be felt. If you're not feeling them any more, you're backslidden.
15."When you grow more uncharitable and critical of brethren..."
This is an obvious one, isn't it? "Love suffers long and is kind". When it's missing, you're backslidden.
16."When you grow less compassionate to the ungodly world".
17."When you thirst after some worldly contentment..."
18."When sense, appetite, and fleshly pleasure grow so powerful you cannot deny them..."
19."When you are more proud and impatient and cannot bear disrespect..."
20."Lastly, when you had rather dwell on earth than be in heaven".
You might quibble with one or two of these. But you have to admit, these are signs of backsliding. So I ask you: Are you backslidden? I know you're not perfect, but have you "Left your first love"? Is Christ less important to you than He once was? Do worldly things matter more than they used to?
If so, it's time to repent. That's the Lord's command to His people, "Remember from where you are fallen, repent, and do the first works".
You have nothing to lose. Honestly, has backsliding made you happier? Has it made your life easier? Does it help you to sleep at night?
Remember, you can return to God. He'll be waiting with open arms. Come home. Come right now. You've wasted enough time and you'll only get worse the longer you stay away.
The words of God in Jeremiah 3:22 speak straight to you:
"Return, O backsliding children and I will heal your backslidings". Psalm 80:3.
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