by C. W. Naylor



"Backsliding" is sometimes used in the sense of spiritual retrogression, but in this chapter I shall use the word in its fuller sense, applying it to the result of that retrogression Ė the severance of the soul from God. The backslider, in this sense, is one who has lost his spiritual life. Jeremiah defines backsliding as sinning against God. "For our backslidings are many; we have sinned against thee" (Jeremiah 14:7). It means that the heart has turned away from God. "And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel" (I Kings 11:9). It is rejecting God. "Thou has forsaken me, saith the Lord, thou art gone backwardÖ" (Jeremiah 15:6). It is forsaking God. "Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and a bitter, that thou hast forsaken Jehovah thy God, and that my fear is not in thee" (Jeremiah 2:19). It is a turning away from oneís righteousness. "When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die" (Ezekiel 3:20). These scriptures and many others show that it is possible for a soul that has once known God to turn away from him, to sin against him, and to be cut off from him, to lose what spiritual life he had once had, and to become an outcast from the holy God. There are multitudes of piously religious professors in that condition today. They had once been saved; the glory of God had once been in their hearts; his sweet peace at one time abode with them. But now, alas! their stony hearts are cold and lifeless; the Spirit of God has gone from them; they have a name to live, but are in fact dead. How sad their estate!

There is another state of the soul, called "fainting" in the Bible, that should be carefully distinguished from backsliding. To draw this distinction is my present purpose. In appearance fainting is very much like death. I remember that in my school days a girl fainted on the playground. The other children came running around, and some said, "She is dead; she is dead." We older ones knew better, but the children did not know better. I have known many instances when people who had merely fainted spiritually, were supposed to be dead and were treated as though they were dead. I have known of hundreds of people who came to the altar, supposing that they were backsliders, but who were not backsliders at all, as a little inquiry into their cases revealed. They were not cut off from God. They had simply let down in their faith, had given up their confidence, and had begun to suppose that they were cut off from God. Many times these fainting souls are treated as backsliders. They are taught to seek God again, to repent, to "begin at the bottom," as it is said. This treatment has resulted in many a soulís losing confidence in God and getting into a place where it can never be certain as to its standing before God, except where it is under the influence of joyful emotion. The only thing that will cut a soul off from God is actual sin, a willful departure from the commands of God.

Some people are harassed much of the time by a feeling that they have done something that is not right. Their various troubles bring them into condemnation, and they question their standing before God. If God chastises them a little or permits them to pass through a trial for a time, or they do not feel just as they think they ought, they do not know whether they are saved or not. There is nothing else that can so torture a soul as this fear and uncertainty.

Perhaps a little of my own personal experience will help some soul. When I was first saved I formed in my mind an ideal standard of life. When forgiven, I had very strong emotions of joy. My cup ran over with praises. I had never known that one could be so unspeakable happy. For weeks I seemed to walk on air. I supposed that this was the normal state of a Christian and expected it to continue permanently. But presently these emotions subsided. I began to question myself, "What have I done to grieve or offend the Lord?" I could think of nothing, but I reasoned that there must be something wrong or I should still have those joyful feelings. I began to let doubts come in, and they, of course, helped to depress my emotions. Thus, I was still further alarmed. I took refuge in prayer and prayed until my former feelings were restored. Faith mounted up, and I went along rejoicing. A little later my joy subsided again, and I began questioning myself: "I must have done something, or the joy would not have departed." My conscience seemed to trouble me and say, "That must be it." Then I tried to repent, and prayed until at last my joy returned.

My conscience became very sensitive. It would condemn me for things which I now know did not affect my standing with God, but which at that time threw me into doubting and distress and sometimes nearly into despair. I would feel so discouraged that I felt it was of no use to try any longer. It was only a great determination not to give up trying that kept me going on. Sometimes I was tortured almost to distraction by the doubts and fears that my sensitive conscience brought upon me. Sometimes I would go to meeting and have joyous seasons, and my confidence would be strong; but more than once I was hardly out of sight of the place of worship until I felt miserable again. This alternation of joy and distress was repeated again and again. While joy lasted, faith seemed strong; but when joy subsided, my faith was gone, and my conscience would begin to lash me. Years passed before I learned the lesson of true faith and brought my conscience to the place where it would allow me to be judged by the Word of God and to hold fast my confidence through every test of emotion. I did not give up, but many times I should not have had faith to testify that I was saved if I had been pressed to declare myself.

Under the influence of discouragement resulting from the lashings of a morbid conscience or bad feelings or something of the sort, many persons surrender their faith and give up counting themselves the Lordís. They have not sinned, so far as they know; but their faith fails. They reason that they must be wrong, and so they give up the fight and count themselves backsliders. They have a tender conscience toward God; they would not do anything wrong for the world. They desire to be right and to please the Lord; their hearts have not turned away from him at all. They have simply surrendered their faith. They are not backsliders at all. They belong to the Lord just as much as they ever did. All they need to do is to let their faith take hold anew, and when they again count themselves as Godís, they will find that the ties that bound them to him have never really been severed. Just to give up to discouragement this way is not backsliding. It is what the Bible means by the word "fainting." Some give up their sanctification in the same way. But that does not bring impurity into their hearts. All that is needful to restore their confidence is that they believe as they did before.

You may say that you have no evidence. If you are doubting, of course, you will not have any assurance. The Bible says, "He that believeth Ö hath the witness" (I John 5:10). It does not say that he that doubteth shall have the witness. You can have the witness in your soul only so long as you are believing. Doubts silence the voice of Godís testimony in the heart. They "ground" the wire, so that no message reaches us. He may be speaking to us, but our doubts prevent our hearing. To give up under the influence of doubts is not sin, nor does it make us sinners. To count ourselves sinners when God does not, does not cut us off from him. It only excites his pity. It is always dangerous to give up our confidence; for the discouragement that comes weakens us so that we cannot so well resist temptation and may easily fall into sin. But unless we do thus go into sin, we have only to go to believing, just to take hold where we let go, to be victorious again.

I remember a preacher who, when he found persons in this state or condition, or bothered until they hardly knew where they were, would say, "Well, if you were out in the woods and did not know where you were, would you not conclude that you were lost?" So he would call upon them to repent, counting them sinners. That preacher was sincere; he thought he was doing just what he ought to do. His unwise dealing with such souls was due to a lack of understanding. In his mental picture of men, one was either victorious or backslidden. He knew nothing about what the Bible means by fainting. He is not alone in this. There are many who cannot distinguish a soul who has merely fainted from one who has backslidden. A backslider, as already shown, is one who has turned away from his righteousness and from God and gone into sin. One who has fainted is one who has just given up and has not sinned. The former must forsake sin, repent, and believe God for pardon. The latter should count himself the Lordís as before, and all will be well.

An experience I once had with a woman illustrates this point very well. Hearing that she was having some spiritual trouble, I visited her and saw very clearly that her only trouble arose from her doubts. I encouraged her to believe that God still accepted her, and she seemed to grasp the idea and act upon it so far as she could at the time. A few days later in a meeting where there was considerable manifestation of joyful emotion and where a number of sinners were seeking the Lord, I found her among the seekers. She was weeping and praying the Lord to have mercy upon her. When I recognized her, I went to her and said, "Sister, what are you doing here? Get right up and go away and being resisting the devil as you ought to do." She arose to her feet and turned around to go, whereupon the glory of the Lord fell upon her, and she began to shout for joy. If this course were followed in a wise way with many souls, they would regain their confidence without having to look back upon themselves as having backslidden. We must learn to diagnose cases as accurately as a good physician, or we may give the wrong remedy, to the lasting hurt of the patient.

Why People Faint

When Jacobís sons returned from Egypt and told him of Joseph and his position there, "Jacobís heart fainted, for he believed them not" (Genesis 45:26). Unbelief produces the same effect spiritually. Anything that causes us to let go our faith will bring fainting. Sorrow is also a cause for fainting. "When I would comfort myself against sorrow, my heart is faint in me" (Jeremiah 8:18). Anything that causes discouragement reacts on faith and causes us to faint if we yield to its influence. When people faint spiritually, they feel just as Jonah did when he fainted literally. He "wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live" (Jonah 4:8). Many persons have felt exactly this way because of their spiritual troubles.

There is an unfailing remedy for fainting. It never fails to prevent when used in time, and it is a cure when we have fainted. David said, "I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord" (Psalms 27:13). When people do not hold fast their faith, they cannot see the manifestation of the goodness of the Lord in coming to their help. If they will hold fast their trust, he will bring them safely through. But instead of holding fast, many people heed the suggestion of the enemy, "You might as well give up." They listen, are convinced, and act upon his advice. Thus, they take the worst possible way out of their trouble, and then, instead of getting out, only find themselves in deeper. O soul, do not faint at your tribulations, but trust in God, and he will not fail you. He is watching over you. He will let the fire become just hot enough to take out the dross. It will refine you, but not destroy you. You will only be the better for those tests of life. God may have to reprove and chasten you, but that will not be for your destruction, but for you profit. Believe in God; believe in your own integrity. Hold fast your confidence, and you will never faint. If you have fainted, begin to believe again, and your spirit will revive as did the heart of Jacob when he believed (Read Genesis 45:27, 28).

Even if we should turn away from our righteousness and commit sin, our case is not hopeless yet. We have an advocate with the Father, even Christ Jesus, our Lord. God is still merciful. His mercy will not fail us if we shall truly repent. Sometimes people get to thinking that they have sinned against the Holy Spirit, and that consequently there is no salvation for them. There is one infallible test. It will settle every case. When a soul has any disposition to repent, or any desire to get back in favor with God, and a disposition to confess to him and serve him, he has not sinned against the Holy Spirit. It is said of those who have backslidden and sinned against the Holy Spirit and counted the blood of Christ as an unholy thing that "it is impossible Ö to renew them again unto repentance" (Hebrews 6:6). This is the key of the whole matter. The trouble is that they have gone so far in their sins that they no longer have nay disposition to repent. There is no penitence in their hearts. They are not sorry that they have done what they have done. Never let yourself be troubled about having sinned against the Holy Ghost when you know that there is a disposition in your heart to please the Lord. In fact, the very feeling that you experience, that perhaps you have sinned against the Holy Ghost, is sure proof that you have not done so. I have seen persons who were almost in despair because of the feeling that they had sinned against the Holy Spirit and could not be forgiven. They would go on from day to day grieving and grieving over it, when if they had understood their own hearts, they would have known that the very grief which they felt over their supposed sin against the Holy Ghost was absolute proof that they had not sinned against him. A man who has really sinned against the Holy Ghost is not concerned about getting back to God.

All other sin is forgivable. And if we do sin, we may find mercy and restoration to the joys of Godís salvation if we will repent and believe. All sins do not have the same effect upon the soul, though every sin brings guilt. Some sin because of being by an unexpected temptation. They are taken unawares and yield before they hardly realize it. Their conscience at once feels the sting of guilt. They feel immediately penitent. They are conscience-stricken and full of remorse. They immediately regret the step that they have taken, and would undo it instantly if it were in their power. Under such conditions, restoration to the favor of God is very easily obtained. There has been no hardening of the heart against God. There has been no thinking over the question, and so there has been no real turning away of their hearts from God. They yielded under such pressure as Peter did in the palace of the high priest. His courage failed him in a critical moment, and he weakly yielded. His repentance followed with equal rapidity.

Sometimes the will consents to do evil through persuasion or through yielding to a powerful and long-continued force. Under such conditions the will may gradually yield, but finally gives up its resistance and does the things asked of it, or the things which it is influenced to do. When it yields, it is involved in guilt, and that guilt is more serious than the guilt previously mentioned. This time the will has not been taken unawares. It has had opportunity to summon its reserve forces and keep on saying no, and so to overcome. In such a case repentance may be immediate or not, depending somewhat on the circumstances. But whether the person repents at once or procrastinates, this case is more serious than the other, because the will is involved in a more vital way. In other instances people just go into sin deliberately through their own volition. The desire to do the thing arises in their hearts, and they do it, despising Godís law. They do it with their eyes wide open to all the consequences. This kind of sin is terrible in its nature. Oftentimes the sinner has no feeling of penitence, and oftentimes he will have trouble to bring himself to submit to God. But the greatest sin of all is the neglect or refusal to repent when sin is done, to let sin go on for months not repented of. Such a sin is utterly inexcusable. If you have sinned, repent at once. Seek Godís mercy at once, and you shall find it. Harden not your heart by delay. Grieve not the Holy Spirit. Impenitence or persistence in refusal to repent hardens the heart as nothing else can and multiplies the guilt enormously.