Devoted or Backsliding, Which?!
Every true servant of Christ and lover of God’s people must feel greatly the apparent lack of true and whole-hearted devotedness to Christ in this day amongst those who profess His name. It is most lamentable to see that the increase of light and Scripture knowledge has not produced the corresponding effect of devotedness to Christ and separation from this world. It has often been remarked that when people were less enlightened there was more true devotedness. How many there are who say “Lord! Lord!” and yet do not what He ask.
This is not only true of the vast profession which bears Christ’s name, and which will eventually be spewed out of His mouth, because of having proved unfaithful to Him; but also of those who have been privileged with the greatest light. As was said in another day, “All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” Hence, the great want of self-surrender to Him. Where devotedness for the Lord is lacking, there cannot be true faithfulness and uncompromising testimony for Him in this world where He was, and still is, rejected.
The great secret of whole-hearted devotedness to Christ is to know and enjoy His love, and thus to be absorbed with Himself alone. No wonder Paul bent his knees, and prayed so earnestly for the Ephesian saints, that they might be not only strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith, but that they also might know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, and so be filled unto all the fullness of God.
Nothing but true affection for Christ can draw us from the influences of this world, or keep us from them. Our hearts must be centered in, satisfied with, and controlled by an Object outside of self and seen things, if we are to be preserved from the present awful current of worldliness around us. No amount of intelligence can produce devotedness. We might be a walking encyclopedia of Biblical knowledge; we might have ransacked the whole domain of theological literature; we might have committed to memory, and might be able to explain, every verse in the Bible; we might be able to define and settle in a most authoritative way the hardest points in theological controversy; our lips might utter very high and heavenly truths, and all the while our hearts be cold and indifferent to what suits the Lord at this present moment.
Moreover, our Church position might be unassailable. We might be maintaining the right ground, as people speak, and the Lord might say of us as He said of Ephesus, “I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for My name’s sake hast labored, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless, I have it against thee, that thou hast left thy first love.” (Revelation 2:2–4, R.V.)
It is a great mistake to think that devotedness is only shown by great acts of service. Not that service should be made little of, but a person might be most active in service and to all appearance might be very energetic in it, and all the while might not be truly devoted to Christ. If Saul thought he was doing a great service when he spared the best of the sheep and oxen to sacrifice to the Lord his God in Gilgal, Samuel said, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” Martha is an example of this, as well as the Ephesian assembly which has come before us. “She was careful, and troubled about many things,” and she said to the Lord, “Dost thou not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” She evidently wanted Mary to leave her sweet retreat for the moment, and help her. But the Lord said, “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Mary sat at the Lord’s feet, and learned His mind, and thus knew what suited Him. This the Lord most appreciated and commended, and from this place all true and effective service must ever flow.
No doubt, where devotedness to the Lord is true and real, it will be seen in some form of service. But it might not be of such a character that men would esteem or value it. For instance, when Mary of Bethany showed her devotedness to the Lord by bringing a pound of very costly ointment, and anointing His feet, and wiping them with her hair, Judas said, “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” He thought Mary’s devotedness was all waste. Men would doubtless have thought far more highly of what the rich men cast into the treasury than what the poor widow cast in. Not so the Lord - “That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God”; “The first shall be last, and the last first.”
There is nothing the blessed Lord is so jealous of as our heart’s love. He does not ask us to love Him without giving us the motive to do so—His own deep, unfathomable, unchanging love, of which we have been the eternal objects, so fully expressed in giving Himself for us. As Paul says, “He loved me, and gave Himself for me.” And also, “The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then were all dead; and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again.” Also, when Paul sought to move the Corinthians to a truer devotedness and greater liberality in giving to others, he used the mightiest possible lever to move their hearts when he said, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.”
Nothing is so jealous as true love: it cannot bear rivalry. But, alas! how much the blessed Lord has to bear with us; for is He not often rivaled in our hearts? “Little children, keep yourselves from idols,” is a word that is often forgotten and greatly overlooked. Anything that supplants Christ in the heart of a Christian is an idol, and ought to be judged and put far from us.
It is extremely sad to see departure from first love, and to witness the declension of those who were once burning and brilliant in testimony for Christ. Of old, God said of Israel, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” And the prophet Haggai said to the returned captives of Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s days, in whom declension was so soon manifested, “Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little…ye drink, but ye cannot be filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it in a bag with holes…Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of Mine house that is waste, and ye did run every man to his own house.” What sad declension!
It has been remarked that “backsliding begins at the closet door,” which is quite true. It behooves each one of us, therefore, to watch the beginning of things. No matter how far advanced we may appear to be, or how much truth we know, it cannot be held in divine power if we do not seek to be alone with God in our closets. I shall never forget a servant of Christ saying that “if we judged ourselves for a dull half-hour we would never get a fall.” If our dullness arises from something we may have allowed in our walk and ways to grieve the Holy Spirit, how true this is. But if we judge ourselves, and turn to the Lord in confession, “we shall not be judged.”
Now soul declension is far more common than many suppose. How many there are who, though not openly backsliding, are nevertheless in heart. They may never miss a meeting; they may be very correct and upright in their ways; they may maintain a perfect outward behavior; but all the while they may show very little heart for Christ, or His interests. Of such the Scripture says, “They shall be filled with their own ways,” not the ways of Christ, or what pleases Him. We might call such people lean-souled Christians—like those of old, of whom it is written, “He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul.” The Lord save His people from such a wretched state!
No state of soul, perhaps, is so serious in any saint as to be in a declining state, and not to know it, or to be indifferent to it. God said of backsliding Ephraim, “Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not; yea, grey hairs are here and there upon him, and he knoweth it not.” Yet think of the compassionate heart of God saying, “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? Mine heart is turned within Me, My repentings are kindled together.” (Hosea 11:8.)
How very comforting to be assured of the fact that, though the Lord may allow us to reap the fruit of our own ways, and make us feel the bitterness of having departed from Him, yet His love never changes toward us: “Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” Nothing could ever induce Him to give us up, though we, in our foolishness, may be tempted to give Him up.
Though Peter denied Him, yet the Lord’s heart remained unchanged toward Peter. With a look that must have expressed the deepest love for Peter, the Lord broke Peter’s heart, and afterwards fully restored him. What marvelous grace! How like the Lord this is!
May the Lord attach our hearts more to Himself, in the place where He is, outside this world. May we have the same spirit as Ruth, when she said, “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”