Charles Naylor, 1941
Did you ever hear of sunburned Christians? Perhaps you never heard of them spoken of in this way. But I am sure you have seen a number of them. I do not mean that their skins were burned by the sun which shines above us. It is something far more serious than that.
I have seen sunburned Christians. I have seen them in all stages of sunburn. Some did not show it very much, and some showed it very strikingly. How much they showed it depended upon the stage their sunburn had reached.
Natural sunburn in the tropics often results in death, by bringing on a fatal fever. Spiritual sunburn is very dangerous also. It will produce death too, if proper steps are not taken to cure it before it gets to a fatal stage. So we need to beware of spiritual sunburn. Perhaps some of my readers already have it, and do not know it. Perhaps some of them know that something is wrong with them, and do not know what it is. I will try to tell you about it.
In Matthew 13:5-6 and Luke 8:6 we read about these sunburned Christians. It was in the Parable of the Sower who went forth to sow that Jesus told us of them. Luke says of the seed, "Some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture." In other words, this class of people seemed to flourish very well for a while, but presently something seems to have happened to them. Their greenness fades. They begin to dry up, and after a while their spiritual appearance is as sunburned as the meadows during a drought.
You have no doubt seen places in time of drought where the vegetation was all dried up and withered away. Everything was shriveled and brown. There was little to tell of the abundant life that had been there before. So it is with some people in their Christian experience.
Jesus interprets his parable thus: "Those on the rock are they, who, when they hear, receive the word with joy: and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away." What a contrast this is to the kind of Christian God expects us to be and the kind that he provides grace for us to be!
Did you know that God had so provided for us an abundance of grace that there never has been need that there should be a single backslider in all the ages since the gospel was first preached? There has been no necessity, I say, of there being a single backslider through all these ages. The gospel teaches the way of salvation plainly enough. The grace of God is free enough and abundant enough so that every soul may serve God acceptably, live victoriously, go on his way triumphant and rejoicing from the time he is saved until he lands safely in Heaven.
The trouble with the seed in the parable, was not that it lacked vitality; for it sprang up. It was not that some animal came along and ate off its sprout. It was not that someone dug it up by the roots. It was not that there was lack of fertility. The only trouble was that it was on a rock. It had not much depth of earth. Moisture could not be brought up by capillary action from the depths beneath, and so when the moisture in the soil was dried out by the heat of the sun—the plant withered, lost its beauty, and became utterly sunburned.
But this is not the way that God intends us to do. He pictures something very different for us in his Word. Listen to what he says of the righteous: "He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." (Psalm 1:3). Again we read, "The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail." (Isaiah 58:11).
"They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the LORD—the grain, the new wine and the oil, the young of the flocks and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more." (Jeremiah 31:12). Note that last statement, "They will sorrow no more." That does not mean that they shall not have the usual sorrows of earth, but that they shall not sorrow about their own heart's experience. They shall not say, "Oh, my lack of grace!" "Oh, my weakness!" "Oh, my leanness!" No, they shall not sorrow any more at all, for they shall be "fat and flourishing, to show that the Lord is upright."
Some Christians never get sunburned. Temptation and persecution do not hinder their growth and development. Let the sun shine ever so hot, they only thrive in it. But others get sunburned, wither up, and die. It is the same sun that shines on both. We are told that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord. These difficulties that are encountered by the Christian, are only manifestations of God's love towards him. They are intended to promote his growth, to make him stronger in grace, to make him richer in good fruit; and if they are rightly met, they have just this effect. But some cannot meet such things this way. They may try their very best. They will get sunburned in spite of themselves. Why is it? It is because they are upon a rock. They have not much depth of earth.
A rock is a good thing as a foundation for a building, and so we are told to build our house upon a rock; but on a rock is a poor place to raise grain. So if we will bring forth fruit for God—then we must not be on rocky ground. We must remove the stones; we must get the soil of our hearts in condition to produce well for God.
The experience of some people is no better than it is because they are superficial in their preparation for service to God. They do not go deep enough, and so, although they seem to prosper for a little while, they soon begin to lose their zeal, their earnestness, their spirituality—and in a little while they are gone. Reader, if you feel yourself getting sunburned, begin to explore the soil under you. Begin to examine where your roots are going. You will no doubt find stones in the way.
One stone very common to such people is the love of their own way. They yielded to God to quite an extent under the power of conviction, but not enough really to get crucified to self to the extent that they were truly dead to self, or if they died in the beginning, another stone has formed under them and now they like their own way, and they have their own way more or less. They know what God's way is, but they consciously come a little short of it. They do not measure up to the fullness of what they know they ought. They are not so dead to the world as they should be.
There is another stone that makes some people wither. It is a lack of full submission. They have submitted to God to a considerable extent, but there is a little something held in reserve. Perhaps they are largely unconscious of it, but it is there nevertheless. They have not thrown themselves wholly on the will of God. They are not completely cut loose from self and the world, and so we see the process of sunburning going on in their cases.
Others have not measured up to the promises they made to God. When they were seeking him, they made promises that they would obey him, that they would make their wrongs right—that they would do thus and so; but now they have drawn back. They have put off obedience from time to time. They have missed opportunities to fulfill their promise. No wonder they are withering away. No wonder they have a sunburned experience. Some made a full consecration to God, but as time has passed they have withdrawn it to some extent. Their consecration is not now so complete as it was, and stone is forming under them. They will soon dry up and die.
There are so many who were once flourishing who are now dried up. They got started all right. They grew well for a season. But alas, new stones formed beneath their roots. The moisture was dried up, and they have withered away.
Let us beware of the stones. Let us see to it that we get them all out when we start to serve God and that we keep them out through life. Then we shall flourish, and the sunshine, the very thing intended to promote growth, will promote it instead of hindering it and destroying the plant. God will send the rain and the sunshine; and though the sun may beat fiercely upon us sometimes, and though we may have many obstacles, and things may seem to be against us—still, if we trust in God, if we keep all the stones out from beneath us, we shall have plenty of moisture and the hot sun will be a blessing to us. And we shall grow and increase in the Lord, and backsliding will be far from us. But as surely as we let stones rest beneath us, as surely as our consecration does not reach to a proper depth and our life does not measure up to all the truth that we know—we are certain to become sunburned Christians.