A Retreat — or a Rout?
Charles Naylor, 1920
Armies often suffer defeat, but there is a great difference in the way they take defeat. Sometimes an army is overcome and driven out of its position, but retreats only as far as it must — then it turns again upon the foe to courageously renew the conflict. Other armies have been defeated, and in a panic have thrown away their weapons and fled in disorder. The first, though defeated, retains its honor; while the others have nothing but shame.
Similar things are seen in individual lives.
There are those who suffer temporary defeat, but who count it only temporary and set themselves immediately to the task of gathering together their forces and retrieving what they have lost.
Others, when they realize a defeat, give up all as lost, throw down their weapons, and cease to fight. They forsake the ranks of God's people, sometimes for a very trifling reason, and go back into the world and suffer the shame that attaches to a backslider. The serious part of this is that many can do such a thing — and consider it a rather light matter. Instead of being a light matter — turning away from God is one of the most terrible things that a soul can do, and one which is often fraught with the direst results, and would be every time — were it not for the exceeding mercy of God.
How it is that one who has ever truly loved God can turn away from him and plunge again into the follies of the world, doing those things which he knows God abhors — is more than I can understand. Sometimes those who once seemed to be quite spiritual are now among the most wicked, even worse than before they ever made a profession!
In one of the Southern States lived a lady who had at different times professed to be saved, but as often backslid. Her daughter, while conversing with me one day, said, "When Mother goes back — she goes full length to the world." She went on to tell me that when her mother gave up her profession, she at once laid aside her simple attire — and decked herself in jewelry and mirthful clothing, and began attending worldly places of amusement. She seemed to think that when she no longer claimed to be saved, that she could cast off all restraint and ignore God's claims upon her entirely, and that it did not matter what she did now. Her excuse was, "Oh, I am not saved now." Just as though that changed in any degree her solemn responsibility to obey God!
I was talking with a man who had been a preacher. I spoke to him about something that had happened in his life on a certain occasion. He had been guilty of immoral conduct. He acknowledged it with apparently no sense of shame, saying, "Oh, I was not professing then." He acted as though he thought his past conduct made no difference in respect to his present standing or influence. Some people seem to think that backsliding gives them some sort of indulgence or license to act as they please. Such a view is equally dishonoring to God and to themselves.
Sin makes a stain which never can be eradicated. Do not forget this. I make the statement advisedly. I am aware that many people do not view it thus, but it is only because they do not consider the question as it should be considered. This is solemn truth, and, reader, the sooner you find it out the better. It may make the matter of sin appear more serious to you. The blood of Christ will wash away the guilt of our sins, if we truly repent and believe, and our hearts may be made as pure as though we had never sinned; but the stain of it lies ever upon our memory, and its somber shadow lies upon our life whenever memory calls it to view. No doubt that shadow will be as eternal as our souls.
Its stain also lies upon our reputation. Men do not forget such things. If you backslide and go into sin — you may obtain salvation through the forbearance of God, but you cannot get away from the stigma of your backsliding. The sins you committed may be forgiven by the saints, for "love covers a multitude of sins," but the world neither forgets nor forgives. The preacher who, after he has preached to others to live right, goes into sin — cannot expect repentance to put him back where he was before, except in the mercy of God. He will have his sin to live down. His words will have lost their power. His influence will have greatly suffered.
This is true of others as well as of preachers. David was a man of God; he sinned, and to this day men despise him for it. The skeptic and the infidel cease not to point to the sad spectacle. The one sin of Peter in denying his Lord stands out today as a dark stain upon his life. O my friend, if you have been defeated in your Christian life, if you have lost the sacred treasure of communion with Christ from your heart — I adjure you today that you do not throw away everything, but value at their true worth the things that remain to you, and hold them fast.
In your righteous life you formed many good habits — do not turn away from them, hold fast to them. You had a thankful and appreciative heart toward God — do not become hard and thankless. You had a reverence for holy things — do not let it go. You had a desire to please God — keep that desire still warm in your bosom. Keep your face turned Godward, not world-ward, and make your way back to him at once.
Sometimes people sin against God, then immediately cease their profession and just drift along day after day, making no effort to obtain forgiveness. They think they will return to God when some evangelist comes to hold a revival. We often see reports of meetings saying that so many "backsliders were reclaimed." This expression tells a sad story of such careless living before God, that it makes one's heart sad to contemplate it. If Satan gets advantage of you, or your foot slips in your upward climb — do not let go all holds and go clear to the bottom into the pit of sin, there to lie carelessly — do not lose an inch more than you can help losing. If you have sinned — then resolutely determine that you will not add to it another sin. Repent of the one committed and press your way right back to God. Do not wait for some preacher — do not wait for anything — return to God. To drift along and wait is folly. It is giving Satan all the opportunity he needs.
One of the most hurtful ideas existing among us today is, that one sin puts a man back in the same place where he was before he was saved. Nothing could be more false — nothing could more obscure what salvation has done for him. Nothing could more tend to make him indifferent and careless. I want to oppose that idea with all my strength, for it is Satan's lie. When a man sins he becomes guilty — but the good character that has been built up, the pure feelings and desires, the right habits of thought and action, the Christian point of view to which he has attained — these are all a wealth that he still possesses. They are something of exceeding value, which in a large measure still remain in his possession. They are, however, in serious danger. If he persists in sin, he will lose them all; but if he recovers himself in time, he will save them.
I offer no excuse for sinning — it is terrible, and how quickly its deadly infection spreads through all the being! Fear it as you would fear a plague! If you have sinned, make your way back to God at once before that sin shall increase to more ungodliness. If you are a backslider, do not think that it does not matter what you do — for it does matter greatly. Do not add sin to sin, increasing your guilt — but keep the fear of God in your heart. If you are overcome — then do not let yourself be routed. Do not throw away your weapons in a panic, but turn again and face the foe and fight him until the victory comes, until you regain what you have lost, until you stand "more than conqueror through him that loved us."