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having begun in the spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? · Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?" "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.' The Ephesians he exhorted, to be no more tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.' And to the Colossians he addressed the following admonition:— Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ?'
2. This strain of admonition and rebuke, which is found running through all the epistolary writings of the New Testament, teaches us that many of the causes of backsliding are of a general character, and affect whole communities in proportion as they are sanctioned and encouraged by the members which compose them. We assert not indeed that all who belong to such communities necessarily fall into spiritual decline in consequence of the evils introduced and fomented by individuals. We mean only to say, that such evilworkers, are roots of bitterness,' every where springing up to trouble God's people, and thereby many are defiled, many of the weak are turned out of the way, the zeal and ardor of many are abated, and thus the whole body suffers.
The truth of this observation will appear evident if we advert briefly to the nature, the operations, and the effect of the evils above noticed,' and which are so clearly pointed out in the scriptures, as causes of frequent backslidings.
Of their nature, we may remark, that they are suited to those affections and passions of the soul which are most susceptible of a wrong bias, and least subject to the control of reason or of conscience. Men have a natural inclination to be pleased. But the doctrines of the cross are calculated to mortify the pride of the heart, as they require that we should deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow Christ. From this humiliating course we naturally shrink with aversion, and incline to substitute some plausible fallacy, calculated more to please than to profit. We say then, with respect to these causes of backsliding, that they are peculiarly adapted to the work of ensnaring the unwary, because they are suited to those affections and passions which they are naturally most inclined to cherish and follow.
The same is true of their operations. Some people, for instance, have a taste for that which is externally graceful and splendid; others admire that which is grave and profound; others, again, are never pleased unless you can entertain them with something novel, eccentric, or satirical. Besides these, there are many over whose feelings their early prejudices have a potent influence; and many others who are naturally ambitious of worldly honor and magnificent display. These, with a fine house of worship, a numerous and respectable congregation, ample funds, and a minister in whose
popularity their own pride is every where flattered and inflamed, think
they are rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing.' Now while truth is one, and can edify and comfort those only whose souls are conformed to it, and while the propensities of the human heart are so extremely various and changeable, and error and imposture are ever on the move to meet and accommodate them, these elements of discord, which are every where to be found, will operate to a greater or less extent.
In some instances, the very things which God in infinite wisdom and goodness has ordained for the edification of the church, are made by the perverseness of the people, occasions of backsliding, Such was the case in the Corinthian Church. Among the ministers of Christ there were diversities of gifts.' One was peculiarly qualified' for a defence of the gospel.' Another was made a son of thunder, that he might pour the terrors of the law' into the ears of the guilty. And a third was endowed with feelings and organs calculated to soothe the afflicted, and encourage the desponding.
But instead of availing themselves of these advantages, severally to build themselves up upon the faith of the gospel, each passionately praised the preacher whose talents best suited his taste, and set himself to depreciate the labors and destroy the influence of others. Thus these instruments of their edification, were made, by their perverseness, occasions of mutual dissensions and unprofitable controversies. And thus it continues to be among all such as regard more the gratification of their inclinations than the edification of their souls.
3. We have to remark, however, that these causes of backsliding have generally been introduced and promoted by individuals of ambitious views and feelings, who have regarded more their own aggrandizement than the glory of God and the good of souls. Such were those of the Church in Pergamos, who held the doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitanes; and Jezebel of Thyatira, who called herself a prophetess; and in that character was suffered to teach and seduce the people. Such also were the numerous false teachers who infested the Church in the days of the Apostles. Their character, as drawn in the scriptures, is by no means equivocal. Their object appears to have been to gain the affection of the people to themselves, and to profit by the conquest. This led them to assail and traduce the apostles and other faithful ministers of Christ, and to make high pretensions of regard for the feelings, the rights, and the prosperity of the people, as also to shake their confidence in those institutions in which they had been nurtured and edified in the infancy of their religion. Having no object but to gain admirers and make proselytes, they were not at all restrained by that regard for truth which binds men of integrity, and therefore they gave unlimited scope to their imaginations in perverting truth; and accommodating themselves to all kinds of prejudices and predilections. If it were to be circumcised, that the offence of the cross might cease, this liberty, under a gospel of perfect freedom, they could not deny any who might desire it, nay, to please their influential Jewish neighbors, they could even constrain those over whom they had influence to consent to this rite. If it were to conciliate the Gentiles, and obtain their favorable regards, a Jezebel could be encouraged, with fair words and soft speeches, to seduce the servants of God to eat things offered to idols.” Thus they labored to disaffect the people, and draw them away from the gospel through which they had been brought to the knowledge of God, and the ministers through whose instrumentality this glorious work had been effected in them. Who can estimate the extent of mischief done to a promiscuous and unsuspecting community, by designing men of this description, with the unbounded licentiousness of speech in which they allow themselves to indulge? The express language of scripture is, that certain men crept in unawares, ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness;' presumptuous' were they and self-willed,' speaking evil of the things which they understood not.' They were murmurers,' and complainers,' speaking great swelling words,' walking after their own lusts, having men's persons in admiration, because of advantage. Of these the apostle Paul early admonished the Ephesian Church. " Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away
disciples after them.' And to this class of men, he no doubt alludes, when he says, “I would they were even cut off which trouble you'.
This, let it be remarked, is the language of prediction. As it was in the days of the apostles, so it is signified that it would be through succeeding ages of the Church. And so it has come to pass. Men of ambitious minds have stolen into the Church, and figured for popularity and distinction on sacred ground. We have seen them bending all their energies to gain the applause of men, and revelling in the spirit of self complacency, as they have succeeded in the single object of their pursuit. Whether it was to be famed for exerting a .controlling influence over others in directing the affairs of the Church, or for being possessed of splendid talents, and admired as orators, self was seen in all they said and did. To effect their purposes, they must stand and act alone. It was not enough that a good thing should be accomplished, but they must have the credit of it. So that for the glory of God and the advancement of his cause, they never appeared to entertain the least concern, only in so far as any thing connected with these high and potent interests could be rendered subservient to their own ambitious thirst for the praise of men. These have been so numerous, that scarcely a community of christians can be found, however few in number, and unpretending in their claims, among whom some of this character have not obtruded themselves. And as they ever shape their course to bring themselves into notice, the tendency of all their labors and efforts is to create divisions and party feelings among unsuspecting brethren, by exciting sympathy in every case in which they pretend to be neglected or
ill used, as drawing them into some erratic measure, whose only merit is that they have projected it, and its success will redound to their praise. Thus, as soon as they can produce an excitement about themselves, and enlist the feelings of others on any pretence they may invent, they cannot be spoken of among brethren in the sober terms of composing relative merit, and rendering to every man his due ; but all who come within the range of the excitement must be partizans in their cause, and join their admirers in trumpeting their praise, or consent to be branded as enemies and persecutors. Such persons occasion immense mischief in whatever character they act, whether as ministers or private members of the Church. Wherever they go they spread a pestilential influence around them. The mutual confidence of the inexperienced is weakened ; the unsuspecting are arrayed against each other in a useless and destructive warfare; and divisions, animosities, and ultimate backslidings follow in their train. He must have been a very superficial observer upon the causes which have contributed to the prevalence of backsliding among professors, who has not been able to trace much of it to the agency of men of this description, who have crept into the Church unawares, and in that sacred relation excited collisions and feuds alike destructive to the peace of the brotherhood and the piety of individuals.
4. Besides those who have crept in unawares, there are others who come into the Church under a share of religious influence, but who, by disregarding the exhortation of the apostles, to “ leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ,' and go on to perfection,' allow their latent propensities to obtain strength and gain an ascendency over them. They may remain in fellowship with the people of God, and be unsuspected of secret defection, except by the eye of religious scrutiny, while nothing occurs to rouse the serpent which coils about their hearts. They may indeed, and often do, distinguish themselves for their zeal in such matters relating to the affairs of the church as happen to accord with their feelings, or tend to sustain their opinions and gratify their ambition. But when an occasion occurs, calculated to develope the lurking evil of their hearts, it will then appear what is their true moral state, and the real cause of their evident aversion to spiritual things, long noticed and deplored by their christian friends. I will say here, that those who backslide after they experience justification, usually fall by the sin to which they have been most addicted, or to which they are constitutionally, or in consequence of their education, trade or profession, most inclined. Hence
apostle exhorts us to lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.' In many backsliders we may trace the workings, of an indulged propensity, prejudice or habit, as the single incipient cause of their departure from God.
Among these we reckon such as indulge in the love of the world, How they may increase their worldly possessions is the question which chiefly occupies their thoughts. They seem in many cases never to have apprehended that this inordinate desire to lay up treasure upon earth' is sinful, or that there is any truth in the declaration,
If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him ;' and consequently they go on, year after year, professing to be the disciples of Christ, and cherishing the spirit of the world in their hearts, without any apparent concern as to the consequences of this fearful incongruity, upon which the scriptures have pronounced in such unequivocal and alarming terms. Their neglect of duty, and, not unfrequently, their violation of moral principle, in their toil and strife for gain-their litigations with others, and even with their brethren, when there is not enough depending to compensate for one hour's loss of peace occasioned by the conflict-their habitual neglect to contribute according to their ability for the support of charitable and re-. ligious institutions--the spirit with which they treat the admonitions of their brethren on these subjects—and, especially, their ceaseless murmurings and other expressions of disquietude at worldly losses and disappointments—these, and a thousand other things of a similar kind, give sad evidence that the spirit of the world reigns in their hearts, to the exclusion of all concern for the more important interests of their souls. Now when the temporal interests of such happen to come in direct collision with their religious privileges, who has not witnessed how recklessly they can sacrifice the latter in subserviency to the former? If they think they have been injured in their worldly interests by a brother, and prompt satisfaction be not rendered on an appeal to the Church, according to their own views of the case, they will hastily withdraw from the privileges of the house of God, and not unfrequently indulge in bitter complaints against all they once professed to love and esteem. Could this ever be the case only where the love of the world has long had dominion in the heart ?
An undue self-esteem is another incipient cause of backsliding. Many there are who value themselves on account of certain peculiar notions they have adopted, and their rigid adherence to them. With them nothing is right but what is in exact accordance with their views. They are bold and confident in asserting their opinions, and rude and impertinent in obtruding them upon others. And their censures are severe and bitter against all who happen to differ from them. Esteeming themselves better than others, and valuing their own performances more highly than any thing they hear, they soon become dissatisfied with the most instructive and edifying gifts of the Church, and withdraw themselves from the regular means of grace, that they may have an opportunity to gratify the pride of their hearts without restraint. They may indeed affect a great share of zeal ; but their total want of Christian meekness evinces the fallacy of their pretensions. Beginning in the spirit of self-esteem, they become dictatorial, self-willed and censorious. And denouncing, as inconsistent with religious freedom, whatever does not admit their will as the will of action, they spurn the restraints of wholesome discipline, abandon the communion of saints, and give full scope to their unbridled inclinations. How many have fallen in this way? and how many others are treading in their footsteps !