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Backsliding, versus Sanctification: Quotes from S. Lewis Johnson and J.C. Ryle

November 30, 2010

S. Lewis Johnson:  Backsliding

From a message on Isaiah 55, the following thought from S. Lewis Johnson:  who will backslide

the one thing above everything else that has impressed itself upon me with regard to backsliding is this: the man who does not continue in the word of our Lord is the man who would backslide — in almost every case (with some exceptions, where Christians are overtaken in some sin that seems to be a sin of an immediate character).  In most of the cases, it is because men have not continued in the word of God.  They have not been students of the Bible.  I don’t mean just devotionally reading it at the breakfast table.  I mean to do some real study of the word of God.

If people will not study the word of God, they are going to need spiritual medicine.  They are going to need a spiritual physician, and I think that through the years the thing that has impressed me in the church is that those Christians who are the least problem to the elders are the Christians who are growing in the knowledge of the Bible.  If you could just get a group of Christians in a church together in which everyone was daily growing in the knowledge of the word of God, the elders could set it out and twiddle their thumbs because it would be a healthy, happy, growing, fruitful body of Christians.  This is so fundamental because the word is powerful and God sees that it accomplishes His purposes.  It is when we neglect the Bible that we begin to drift, becoming indifferent, lose our love, become overtaken and entangled in sin.

How true it is — we need to continue in the word of God, the daily manna to grow in the knowledge of God’s word.  I can see the backsliding effects in other professed believers who give minimal attention to the Bible, with their hearts occupied with the cares of this world.  I can see it in my own past, the years of mere casual Bible reading but no growth in Bible knowledge.  The neglect of the Bible brings out indifference and loss of our first love.  How tragic it is too, to see in loved ones an attitude of indifference to God’s word: the post-modern attitude that only certain parts of the Bible are important (soteriology) and all the rest is up for interpretation and it’s arrogant to say that we know for sure what God’s word means (and therefore why bother to study God’s word?)

Here I turn to words of great comfort and counsel, from J.C. Ryle’s Holiness (chapter 12, The Ruler of the Waves), for my own trial of living with a backslidden person:

How should you know who are true Christians, if following Christ was the way to be free from trouble? How should we discern the wheat from the chaff, if it were not for the winnowing of trial? How should we know whether men served Christ for His own sake or from selfish motives, if His service brought health and wealth with it as a matter of course? The winds of winter soon show us which of the trees are evergreen and which are not. The storms of affliction and care are useful in the same way. They discover whose faith is real and whose is nothing but profession and form.

How would the great work of sanctification go on in a man if he had no trial? Trouble is often the only fire which will burn away the dross that clings to our hearts. Trouble is the pruning–knife which the great Husbandman employs in order to make us fruitful in good works. The harvest of the Lord’s field is seldom ripened by sunshine only. It must go through its days of wind and rain and storm.

If you desire to serve Christ and be saved, I entreat you to take the Lord on His own terms. Make up your mind to meet with your share of crosses and sorrows, and then you will not be surprised. For want of understanding this, many seem to run well for a season, and then turn back in disgust, and are cast away.

If you profess to be a child of God, leave to the Lord Jesus to sanctify you in His own way. Rest satisfied that He never makes any mistakes. Be sure that He does all things well. The winds may howl around you, and waters swell. But fear not, “He is leading you by the right way, that He may bring you to a city of habitation” (Ps. 107:7).

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