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TEXT: Proverbs 14:14a
SUBJECT: Baxter on Backsliding #2
Tonight, with the Lord's blessing, we'll continue our study of Richard Baxter on Backsliding. Baxter was an English pastor who lived from 1615 to 1691. His theology is not always good, but his practical works are Puritan counseling at its best.
Baxter says one may backslide in three ways: in doctrine, in the heart, and in obedience. Some believers slide into error, others into hypocrisy, still others into open sin. Have you declined in one of these ways? Or more than one? If you have, Richard Baxter has some advice for you.
In this study, we'll see what do about your backsliding. Eight points.
"When you know the marks of a backslider, come into the light and be willing to know yourself, whether this be your condition or not, and do not foolishly cover your disease".
Last time, we looked at "the marks of a backslider". A backslider does not fear temptation; he's satisfied with outward religion; he neglects prayer; he's impatient with brethren and feels no compassion for the lost.
Are you a backslider? If so, why don't you admit it to God? It's easy to fool other people. It's possible to "deceive yourself". But you can't hoodwink the Lord. Why don't you stop trying?
God promises to "heal our backslidings"--if we confess them. But if we don't? If we keep "stonewalling" the Lord, He says He'll confirm us in our sins.
He "hardened Pharaoh's heart". He "poured out a spirit of slumber" on the Jews. To others, He "Sent a strong delusion that they should believe a lie."
These were not arbitrary acts of power, but just punishments on men for their stubbornness.
Being crooked with God is wrong, dangerous, and very unpleasant. David knew this:
"When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all day long. For day and night, Your hand was heavy upon me. My vitality was turned into the drought of summer".
But fessing up to the Lord brings sweet relief. Again David says,
"I acknowledged my sin to you and my iniquity I have not hidden, I said, `I will confess my sins to the Lord', and you forgave the iniquity of my sins".
If you're sick with backsliding, you won't get better until you break down and tell God the truth. Proverbs 28:13.
WAKE UP YOUR CONSCIENCE
There's a difference between your mind and your conscience. The former recognizes your backsliding, the latter feels it. Merely thinking the thought, "I am backslidden" won't do. You've got to feel the guilt of backsliding. To do that, you've got to touch the conscience.
How do you do that? Being a good Puritan, Baxter gives 23 ways! I won't, but here are a few:
1.Think of how stupid backsliding is. Baxter says,
"You have had the experience of the evil of sin, the pain of repentance, and the deceitfulness of all that can be said for sinning".
You've backslidden before. It didn't make you happy then. Why do you think it will do the trick now? We've all tasted "the wormwood and the gall". Why go back for seconds? Or thirds? Or fourths?
If a monkey touches a hot stove once, he'll never do it again. Backsliders are more stupid than monkeys. They go back to the burner again and again--just sure that this time, they won't be burned!
2.Think of how ungrateful backsliding is. Baxter says,
"By what multitude of mercies has God obliged you. Mercies before your repentance, and mercies that drew you to repent, and mercies since! For which of His mercies do you now [re-pay] Him? Can you remember how He has dealt with you and not be ashamed of your backslidings?"
I can't. That's why, when I want to backslide, I put His mercies out of my mind. God forgive me for being an ingrate. And you too!
3.Think of how hurtful backsliding is to others.
"There is none who so hardens the wicked in his sins and furthers the damnation of souls, than the backslider...There is none that are so great a terror to young Christians, as these backsliders...They are the greatest grief to faithful ministers of Christ..."
If you profess faith and then fall away, you make the unbeliever say, "I knew it was all phony". You encourage young believers to follow your evil ways. You break the heart of pastors who tried to do you good.
4.Think of how disloyal you are to Christ.
"You are more treacherous to Christ than you would be to a common friend. Would you forsake your friend without a cause? Especially and old and tried friend?"
If you wouldn't treat any friend that way, why would you treat your Best Friend that way?
Baxter says a lot more on this point, but I'll leave it here. Just remember: Backsliding is stupid, ungrateful, hurtful and disloyal.
Remind yourself of these things, and you'll wake up your conscience.
RETURN TO CHRIST
Guilt is not to be wallowed in. It's to be gotten out of! You get out of guilt by fleeing to Christ for forgiveness and renewal.
STAY AWAY FROM TEMPTATION AND THE PEOPLE WHO TEMPT YOU
This is not always possible, of course. But as much as you can avoid these occasions for sin, do it. To help you, Baxter draws a vivid comparison.
"If you knew they were robbers who intended to murder you, you would be gone. If you knew they had running sores, you would be gone. And will you not be gone when you know they are servants of the devil who would infect you with this sin and cheat you of your salvation?"
We're very careful about our physical lives. There are places we don't go. There are people we stay away from. Now, if we're this fussy about our bodies, why can't be as careful about our souls?
AVOID THE OUTWARD ACTS THAT COMPOUND YOUR BACKSLIDING
This is a good point. We often confuse "hypocrisy" with "not doing what we want to do". Unless our hearts are right, it doesn't matter what we do. Baloney!
Of course, it is best to be good from the inside-out. God "Desires truth in the inward part" says Psalm 51. But, if your heart is wrong, at least control your body. The more you give in to your desires, the worse your heart becomes.
"The drunkard cannot say he has not power to shut his mouth. The same I may say of other sins. Command your mouth, your hand, your eye. And guard these entrances and instruments of sin".
ASK FOR HELP
"Engage some faithful friend to assist you in your watch.
Open all your case to someone who is fit to be your guide and helper. Resolve that, whenever you are tempted to sin, that you will go and tell him before you commit it. And entreat him to deal [honestly] with you".
This is a hard one. Especially for private or dignified people. To confess a sin is embarrassing. To confess one that has a real power over you is humiliating. But your need for help is greater than your need for privacy.
Don't ask for the help of a coward! He won't tell you the truth. Don't seek the help of someone who has the same problem you do. He obviously doesn't know how to resist it any better than you do.
A member of your family--I think--is the best choice. Or a very close friend. In any event, look for someone who knows you well, is not easily fooled, and will tell you the truth.
GO BACK TO THE BASICS
"Set yourselves seriously to all the duties of a holy life; and join yourself to a society of the saints. Holy employment and holy company are very great preservatives against every sin".
I know it's terribly cliché'. But it's still true. If you're backslidden, start reading the Bible; start praying; start going to church. Do these things whether you feel like it or not! Even if they make you feel like a hypocrite.
MAKE THINGS RIGHT WITH OTHER PEOPLE
Your backsliding has hurt other people. Maybe it's made you a cranky husband; maybe a lazy worker; maybe a negligent church member. Make things right. Baxter says,
"Go presently to your companions...and lament [your sin] and earnestly warn and entreat them to repent...If really you would return, with Peter go out and weep bitterly, and when you are converted, strengthen the brethren, and help to recover those you have sinned with".
Well, what do you think? Richard Baxter is not infallible, but what part of his advice is not true? Every one agrees with the Word of God. Every one is clear. By God's grace, every one is do-able.
So, why don't you do them? Start with honesty and work your way toward repentance and faith and restitution.
It will do you good. God promises that. "A broken and contrite heart He [never once] despised". Your repentance won't be perfect, but He'll take less than that. A sincere effort to do the right thing is an "Acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God".
Here's the promise of God:
"I will heal your backsliding; I will love you freely".
Here's the condition for receiving it:
"O Israel, return to the LORD your God...say to Him, `Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously'...for in You the fatherless finds mercy".
God save the backslider. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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