Hope for the Backslider
"I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him."Hosea chapter 14, verse 4.
The prophet Hosea, as you may deduce from the opening verse of the Book, exercised a ministry over a period of eighty years. He began over eight centuries before Christ, and he continued until a very brief time before the northern kingdom of tribes was devastated by the Assyrians. His name means " salvation," as does Joshua and Jesus, and his whole ministry was devoted to such a witness to the ten tribes as would save them from the disaster that otherwise was inevitable. It is a truth not to be overlooked that when nations are in desperate straits (as indeed no less at other times) their one hope is GOD. That is why revival is priority number one for Britain today, and why this book like many others, has the key to the hour in which we live.
The Book is essentially one for the backslider. In the first three chapters Hosea portrays in graphic fashion the unfaithfulness of a wife against the background of the steadfastness and loyalty of her husband. Such a presentation is exceptional in our day, and of course, it would be exceptionally impressive in his. The rest of the book is set in a national context, and together these fourteen chapters constitute a word for whoever has ears to listen. And if we lay to heart at the beginning of our meditation that backsliding is the sin of sins for Christians, one of which nearly all are guilty, and yet of which few are genuinely convicted, then we shall realise how important is this word to us.The prophet who is speaking on purpose to backsliders must be a man of deep feeling. He is not discoursing on some interesting element of orthodoxy or an abstruse issue of doctrine, rather is he seeking to save somebody from a desperate situation, the critical character of which may be more evident to the prophet than to the one to whom he speaks. This being Hosea's position, his words emerge from his lips not so much in sentences of well-ordered and consecutive thought, but rather in graphic exclamations and appeals that bear witness to the tumultuous feelings of his heart and his overwhelming concern for the people to whom, in the name of Jehovah, he speaks. As you read through the fourteen chapters, therefore, you will see
(1) THE EVIDENCE OF BACKSLIDING
Stated briefly, there are two major sins of which these people were guilty. First, the worship of idols. Images and idols, no matter for what purpose they are made, are abominations unto God. They still are! There may be psychological reasons why a person likes an image or a crucifix, but the Word of God is clear in the Ten Commandments: " Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of anything that is in the heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them; for I the Lord Thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me."
Evidently, in any form of idolatry there are perils with prolonged consequences. The second sin was the sin of dependence on Man. When a nation is getting away from God, then it is concerned with alliances with others, although vain is the help of man. Today man is looking to man. Even so it was in Hosea's time. A nation may be joined to another nation in a principle that honours God, but not in expediency which ignores Him. We still do not realise that God knows at once when we ignore Him! It is, of course, no less true for the individual. Now these sins so vividly set forth by Hosea were not recognised by the people. They saw reasons of expediency and convenience in idolatry, reasons of necessity in turning to other nations, but Hosea intimated two other evidences of backsliding that were products of their idolatry and alliances with pagan nations
The first was confusion instead of conviction. Nothing was clear, everything was largely according to how the individual thought, the nation was bewitched in mind. The backslider always finds this result. When he was rejoicing in the Lord he was a man of conviction, but the moment he began to backslide, looking away from God and looking to his fellow-man, from that moment convictions begin to dissolve into confusion. Satan is ready, of course, to assist him and to save him from undue alarm by intimating that he has in the past been too narrowminded and that really he is now much more sensible. He may be content with that, but on the other hand, he must be aware that the joy of strong convictions has departed.
The second result is an unbalanced life. " Ephraim is a cake not turned " (7:8). The cook has forgotten or neglected to turn the cake on the stone. One side is burned to a cinder, the other is raw and unpalatable. Gradually by design or neglect life becomes an increasing absorption with that which is not of God, to the exclusion of that which is His. It is a simple truth that unless God is put first in every respect, life is unbalanced. When God is not first, when His word, prayer, service, worship, adoration, love and devotion, do not claim first place in our hearts, we are in a state of backsliding.
(2) THE ENCUMBRANCES OF BACKSLIDING.
Backsliding is never realised except in the beneficent mercy of God as one's eyes are opened to the truth. It is really a debilitation of spirit, as that which has been brought to life when we were born again from above, is not nurtured as it needs to be. The spirit of a man is vitally healthy as he exercises faith in the Living Christ and is inwardly nourished by the Indwelling Spirit. The Spirit brought to life in the new convert can never die, but it can weaken and so cause the Holy Spirit to be grieved and to be uncommunicative, and it is that uncommunicativeness of the Spirit in the believer that spells tragedy unless we are aroused from it. Hence the backslider, if he continues to join the Lord's people in worship, discovers that he no longer enjoys inspiration from the people of God, but rather even the worship becomes irksome and burdensome. It ceases to he vitalising. His soul instead of being satisfied in the life of his dominant born- again spirit now begins to look round through the senses for satisfaction, and as the appetite grows for things that are sensuous, and it may be sensual, so the satisfaction from them diminishes. He may get a modicum of satisfaction from the world, but his spirit within him, which is of God, is mourning for its God, and all his so-called pleasures are encircled with an unmistakable disappointment. In the heart it means hardness and obstinacy. We kick against the pricks. Others do not know it but God does, and we are brought very low as at times we come to deep shame over our condition. With this is the fear of the consequences if we attempt to take our freedom. Backsliding always brings the backslider to embarrassment within. But now let us look at
3) THE EFFECT OF HEALING
"I will heal their backsliding." Let us note that backsliding needs a Divine ministry. It is quite useless to attempt to deal with it ourselves as if it were an internal situation that did not need God. God only can heal our backsliding. When He does He is very gracious. " I will be as the dew unto Israel." Dew is the condensing of the atmosphere during the evening, refreshing the land and the growth. The warmth of the love of God falls on the heart that is cold, and there is a dew formed with hopes of life. It is the beginning of something wonderful. Note carefully Hosea's words in this closing chapter: "He shall grow as the lily." The backslider will begin to show forth beauty, a beauty more glorious than Solomon in all his glory. It is true beauty because the Spirit is doing His work from within and bringing forth the very beauty of Christ in the face, a beauty every believer knows and recognises. The backslider begins , "to cast forth his roots as Lebanon." Once again he begins to seek God, to meditate upon His Word, to desire to be rooted and grounded in Christ. Once again he comes to join with the Lord's people and to love the house of His Glory. "His branches shall spread." There is an amazing vitality as thrusting down the roots into the ground he stretches the branches overhead. His strength increases. It is beauty and strength, and finally it is the olive tree and the smell of Lebanon. There is fruitfulness and fragrance.
One of the great facts of a vital believer is the indirect influence of his life as men and women all unknown to him are helped Godward. As he believes in Christ, so out from his inner being, flow rivers of living water. When he becomes a backslider those rivers no longer flow and the life is no longer inspired Godward. Alas, others know this when we are ignorant of it! But they will know it also when the backslider is healed! The roots go down afresh, the branches push out, the beauty is seen and the fragrance of the life is sensed wherever the restored backslider goes. And this, therefore, brings us to the final word of the prophet, which is ,
(4) THE ENTREATY TO THE BACKSLIDER
In this respect at least the prophet reveals deep feeling. A man has to live very close to God himself to be able effectively to speak for God, to a backslider. What intimacy with God is needed for an exclamation like chapter 11 verse 8. "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel ? . . . my heart is turned within me." We may perhaps be surprised that God feels so deeply about backsliders as that, but He does. Unrequited love is an agony. To love someone who does not return it is anguish. Nobody knows that better than God Himself. It is to such a One that the backslider is bidden to return. "Bring with you words."
God does not want ceremony and sacrifice without any meaning in them but He wants words that spring from the heart. Words that ask Him to take away iniquity, to cleanse the heart and entreat Him to receive us back again in the fullness of His love and grace. This is what the Lord requires of us. This is the plea of Hosea to the people. It is the sure pleading of the Holy Spirit to our own hearts. The old life, with its false appetites will perish, the new life, with is Christlike fragrance will begin. Ephraim shall say, "What have I to do any more with idols?" The sad fact was that this appeal went forth as the time was ripening for judgment. Hosea's words, tender and kind, so full of loving appeal, were lost upon his generation. They persisted in their idolatry, their immorality and their alliances with nations around them; they persisted in battle until they perished in battle and were swept away into exile. In the mercy of God His calls to us become more insistent, more appealing and more tender, as He sees the oncoming judgment. It maybe that the Lord is speaking to some backslider with an urgency that is being felt in the heart and yet resisted. Such a one will do well to believe that the urgency of God is because our Heavenly Father sees tomorrow what we cannot see today, and so He pleads. In any event whether there be a backslider reading this or not, every one of us will do well to let the Spirit of God melt our hearts and to deal with us while there is time.If there are kindlings Godward let us respond to them, if the still small voice speaks, let us heed. Let each one see to it that he or she takes words, words that express the depths of the heart and comes right back to God.
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