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TEXT: Proverbs 14:14a
SUBJECT: Baxter on Backsliding #3
Tonight, with the Lord's blessing, we'll complete our study of Richard Baxter on Backsliding. Thus far, he has explained backsliding as falling away from God in doctrine, in devotion, or in obedience. He went on tell you if you are backslidden or not. And what to do if you are.
This pretty much covers the field, doesn't it? Not quite. His last section begins with these words,
"Backsliding is a state more easily prevented than cured".
Thus, tonight, we'll learn what to do if we're not backslidden. Or, how to avoid slipping away from God. The Puritan offers twelve directions.
1. KNOW THE TRUTH
"Be well grounded in the nature and reasons of your religion. For the highest zeal and resolution will not cause you to persevere, if your judgments are not furnished with sufficient reasons to refute [false teachers]".
Before we study the lines he wrote, let's think about what's written between them. What do these words presuppose? They assume that "what you know and believe" has some effect on "how you live". In other words, that doctrine matters. Knowing the truth is good for you; believing error is bad for you.
Is that so? It is. Our Lord once prayed, "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth". Paul urged Timothy to teach "that doctrine which is according to godliness".
If you want to "grow in grace", you must study the Bible, think about it, and pray for understanding.
This is true in general, of course. But Baxter is thinking of something specific. You've got to know the truth so you won't be seduced by heretics.
Many believers are terribly ignorant of the most fundamental doctrines of the faith. Baxter says,
"I speak with grief and shame that cannot be concealed. The number of Christians is so small who are well [versed] in the reasons of Christianity and are able to prove [the truth] and refute opposers..."
Why are we so ignorant? For three reasons:
1. We don't study the Bible,
2. we receive many doctrines on the word of men, and
3. we spend too much time on secondary issues.
The only way to know the truth--and be convinced of it--is to study the Bible on your own, to "prove all things" men tell you (including what I say), and to spend most of your study time on "the weightier matters of the law".
On the last point, Baxter says,
"I fear there are more who are able to prove the points that an antinomian or an anabaptist deny, than to prove the immortality of the soul or the truth of Scripture".
Baxter has never been more up to date! Believers spend more time studying the Sabbath or the mode of baptism or the millennium than they do the resurrection of Christ or justification by faith.
And so, if you don't want to backslide, know the truth.
2. DIGEST THE TRUTH
"Get every sacred truth into your heart and life. And see that all is digested into holy love and practice...truth that is only known is like meat that is undigested in the stomach. But truth that is turned into the love of God and a holy life is not so easily let go of".
If God's Word is studied like American history or English literature, it's doesn't mean much to us. We may know it, but because it doesn't affect us, it is easily forgotten. But when the Word is put into practice, it stays with us.
Reading about God's faithfulness is much less meaningful than "Proving God" in daily life. Believing "God is with me" is a far less than "walking with God".
If you want the Bible to "stick to your ribs", then read it carefully. But don't stop there. Martin Luther would read a chapter with these questions in mind: (1) For what should I praise God? (2) For what should I thank Him? (3) What sin should I confess? and (4) To what duty does it call me?
That dear man was not a backslider. He was a "Doer of the Word".
If you don't want to backslide, digest God's Word.
3. BEWARE OF A FALSE ETERNAL SECURITY
"Take heed of doctrines [that lead to] presumption and [over]-security. And take heed, lest you fall away, by thinking it impossible to fall away and that you are past all danger".
The Bible teaches "the eternal security of a believer". But this security does not permit us to forget God, live in sin, and still go to heaven. No, Peter says we are "Kept by the power of God through faith". God keeps us secure. But He doesn't do it without means. He keeps us secure through faith. Not a one-time decision, but a believing life.
"Eternal Security" or "Once Saved Always Saved" are true doctrines. And precious ones too. But beware lest they become your only doctrines. Let no teaching ever make you forget Matthew 10:21 or Hebrews 12:14,
"He who endures to the end shall be saved". "Pursue peace with all men and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord".
4. BE CAREFUL WHO YOU LISTEN TO
"In a special manner, take heed of the company and doctrine of deceivers. [Even] if they seem the most religious men and think they are in the right".
False doctrine is dangerous. Even if it's taught by smart, upright, and generous men. Paul makes this point in I Corinthians 15:33.
If heresy is so bad for you, you must avoid those who teach it, Proverbs 13:20.
If you don't want to backslide, be careful who you listen to.
5. BEWARE OF SPIRITUAL PRIDE
"Be very watchful against the sin of pride, especially pride of gifts or knowledge or holiness"
No one is more likely to backslide than the person who thinks he cannot. For in light of the Bible and the fall of holy men, we ought to be very humble, knowing, "There, but by the grace of God, go I".
God takes pride Personally. He "Resists the proud". And promises to bring them down. Remember Simon Peter. Memorize Proverbs 16:18.
If you don't want to backslide, beware of pride.
6. BEWARE OF HYPOCRISY
"Take heed of a hypocritical heart".
This speaks for itself. Backsliding starts in the soul. He who pretends to be holy when his heart is far from God is already backslidden, and will slip a lot farther away unless he repents.
7. BEWARE OF AN UNDUE LOVE FOR THE WORLD
"Beware lest the world, or anything in it steal your heart...If your friends or homes or businesses grow too pleasant or are over-loved, your thoughts will be carried after them and turned away from God".
When John says, "Love not the world, neither the things in the world", he means bad, sinful things. But that's not what Baxter has in mind. He fears that good things--like family or friends--can become idols. If they do, you're backslidden. For
"He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me".
If anything is loved or wanted more than God it, is an idol. And it's proof of dangerous backsliding.
8. PRACTICE SELF CONTROL
"Keep a strict control and watch over your fleshly appetite and sense...for the loosing of carnal lusts, and yielding to sensual desires, is the most ordinary way of wasting grace and falling off from God".
Well, of course it is! "The lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh are of the world, and not of the Father".
Lust is like an Amway salesman. If you give him an inch, he'll take a mile. Say No to evil desires when they first occur to you. Had David turned his head that fateful day, he wouldn't have committed adultery, murdered a good man and blasphemed God.
"Oh how great a matter a little fire kindles".
9. AVOID TEMPTATION
"Keep as far as you can from temptations, and all occasions of sinning. Do not trust your own strength and do not put yourself into needless danger".
A man once told me he was going to Las Vegas and planned to see show that was borderline indecent. I asked him if that was wise. He replied, "Ah, that doesn't bother me!" He should have read Proverbs 14:16.
10. GET INTO FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD'S PEOPLE
"Incorporate yourself into the communion of saints, and go along with those who are going to heaven".
No church or friend saves you, of course. But they are used by God to make you holier and bring you closer to Himself and glory. Use them!
11. REMEMBER THE BACKSLIDER
"Keep always in your mind the sad case of the backslider. Oh, what horror is waiting to seize their consciences! How many of them I have known who, lying on their death beds, roared `I am utterly forsaken by God because I have forsaken Him!'"
You know backsliders. Do they seem happy to you? Do you think they sleep well at night? Think about what's happened to them. And remember, if you backslide, the same must happen to you!
12. TAKE BACKSLIDING SERIOUSLY
"Make not a small matter of the beginning of your backsliding. Very few fall away all at once. The misery creeps on by insensible degrees. You think it a small matter to cut short one duty or entertain some pleasing thought of the world. A thought or a look or a taste has never stopped with many till it had shamed them here, and damned them forever".
This, I think, is the most important thing he says. Backsliding doesn't begin with big, gross, and scandalous sins. No, it begins with not reading the Bible one day or giving into an impure thought. These sins snowball and before you know it, you're dangerously backslidden. Or lost.
The best place to prevent backsliding is at the beginning. Before it grieves the Spirit of God and builds a momentum you can't stop.
If you're not backslidden, give thanks to God for His grace. But remember, everyone is liable to it--even you. Take the advice Baxter gives, ask God to bless it, and "Grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ".
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