Thoughts on Backsliding

John Bunyan (1628-1688) was a Puritan preacher in England.  He is best known for writing The Pilgrim’s Progress (From This World to That Which is Come), in 1678.  The book sold perhaps 100,000 copies in its first 15 years (Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress – The British Library, bl.uk). 

In this book, Bunyan lists four reasons some backslide.  Consider:

1.  “Though the conscience of such men are awakened, yet their minds are not changed: Therefore, when the power of guilt weareth away, that which provoked them to be religious ceaseth” (Part one, p. 175). 

It is true that some never develop the love that they should for God, Christ, and His word.  The greatest commandment is to love God with all of one’s being (Matthew 22:36-37 cf. Deuteronomy 6:5).  Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23).  Some do not love the truth as they should (Psalm 119:97; Matthew 13:44-46; 15:7-8; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; 4:1-5).

2.  “Another reason is, they have slavish fears that do over-master them; I speak now of the fears that they have of men: For the fear of men bringeth a snare” (p. 176).     Jesus taught, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28).  John tells us, “Even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43 cf. 7:13; 9:22).

3.  “The shame that attends Religion lies also as a block in their way; they are proud and haughty, and Religion in their eye is low and contemptible” (p. 176).

Some think that they have outgrown the message.  They think that they are wiser than the message.  Paul writes, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).  The Proverbs reads, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?  There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12 cf. Proverbs 3:5). 

4.  “Guilt, and to meditate terror, are grievous to them” (p. 176).

Many do not like to look in the mirror of God’s word (cf. James 1:22-25; Hebrews 4:12).  We are told, “Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed (John 3:19-20).  Many do not want to have their sins pointed out to them. 

Bunyan also lists nine manners (or stages) of backsliding.

1.  “They draw off their thoughts… from the remembrance of God, death and judgment to come” (p. 177). 

They cease to think about spiritual matters.  They neglect and even avoid such thoughts.

However, of the blessed man, we’re told, “his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).

2.  “Then they cast off by degrees private duties, as closet-prayer, curbing their lusts, watching, sorrow for sin and the like” (p. 177).

They stop spending time with God.  They cease spending time in prayer and Bible study.

They change their attitudes about sin.  Remember, we are to “Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). 

3.  “Then they shun the company of lively and warm Christians” (p. 177).

They avoid true Christians, They are no longer comfortable in their presence.

Fellowship is important.  The early church spent much time together (Acts 2:42-47).  We are taught to “exhort one another daily… lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). 

4.  “After that they grow cold to public duty” (p. 177).

They begin to miss the assemblies of the church.  They do not have the attitude of David, who said, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the LORD’” (Psalm 122:1).

Attendance is important.  We are taught, “let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves… but exhorting one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25). 

5.  “Then they begin to pick holes, as we say, in the coats of some of the Godly” (p. 177).

They begin to find fault with members of the church.  This may be an attempt to justify their lack of involvement or attendance.  Often the preacher or elders become the target.

We should not be like this.  We should use our words to build up, not tear down (Ephesians 4:29).  Some do not endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:29).  Paul warned, “If you bite and devour one another, beware let you be consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:15).  Many churches have been destroyed by murmurers. 

6.  “Then they begin to adhere to, and associate themselves with carnal, loose, and wanton men” (p. 178). 

We are warned, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’” (1 Corinthians 15:33).  The Proverbs says, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20 cf. Psalm 1).

7,  “Then they give way to carnal and wanton discourses in secret; and glad are they if they can see such things in any that are counted honest, that they may the more boldly do it through their example” (p. 178). 

Let us remember that there are no real secret sins.  You may hide things from men; but, you cannot hide things from God (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Romans 2:16; 1 Timothy 5:24-25; Hebrews 4:13).

Let us also remember that other men’s sins do not justify our own (Matthew 15:14; Exodus 23:2).

8.  “After this, they begin to play with little sins, openly” (p. 178).

They test the waters.  They see how much they can get away with in the open. 

9.  “And then being hardened, they show themselves as they are.”

They become bolder.  They no longer blush at sin (Jeremiah 6:15; 8:12; Proverbs 30:20).

However, let us remember, “Sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:15).  If one lets sin grow in his life, this is where it leads.

Question: Do you see yourself in any of these points?  If so, it is time to repent.

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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