THE BACKSLIDER I STRUCTED A D ADMO ISHED. REV. RICHARD CECIL, A.
When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel ; but when he offended in Baal, he died. — Hosea xiii. 1, [1806.] If we were to examine the symptoms of consumption as they appeared three or four hundred years ago, we should find them much the same as at the present time; and the disease treated much in the same way. There is in this disease at all times a feverish excitement, leading to death. So in the Church, if we see a member of it become high-minded, and exalted; if he lifts up himself and becomes self-confident, we have reason to fear a spiritual death is working under these symptoms. " He that exalteth himself shall be abased." There is a necessity not only for calling the world to account, but even the Church itself, when it begins to be in a declining state. The vanity of a mere profession is set* forth all through this prophecy ; and the man of a tender and sensitive conscience will find the prophet Hosea speaking as much to his case as if he had lived in the present day. I propose, I. To EXPLAI THE WORDS OF THE TEXT ; II. To APPLY THEM. I. Ephraim is but another name for Israel, i. e. the
426 ORIGI AL THOUGHTS. Church of God, — which was, at this time, become proud and idolatrous ; following their own vanities, and taking into their council flesh and blood. The prophet calls upon this Church to consider the difference of its present tone, and voice, from that which it had in better days : " When Ephraim spake trembling he exalted himself in Israel." When a Christian is said to "speak trembling," it does not imply that he is a man of a dastardly spirit : one thing is often taken for another because there is some resemblance, though they are essentially different.
This state of mind is not to exhibit the cowardice of the spies, who trembled to execute their commission, and brought up an evil report of the good land ; it is not to belong to the "fearful and unbelieving," who dread the cross in religion, and dare not do their duty. or is it to speak like Eli, who could only say, " ay, my sons," when he ought to have spoken with authority: nor is it to speak as Moses, when he said, " Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people V um. xi. 13 ; he spake trembling, but he did not exalt himself. either are we to consider it as the language of one overwhelmed, as Isaiah, " Woe is me, for I am undone !" To speak " trembling" is not the effect of a mere constitutional timidity, which is often mistaken for meekness and humility : much less does it mean that sort of affected humility which leads a man to speak of himself in very abasing terms, while if another speak in the same way of him, his pride is offended, and he exhibits displeasure and resentment. We must look for something more than all this when we consider the text as indicating the loss of a contrite spirit in Ephraim ; it was a decrease in grace : he had ceased to speak with holy fear. What, then, are we to understand by these words —
THE BACKSLIDER I STRUCTED A D ADMO ISHED. 427 " When Ephraim spake trembling ?" They seem to refer to the state and feelings of a young, tender, simplehearted, and prayerful believer, when, under a strong sense of his weakness, and of the evils of his own heart, he says, I need special direction ; I cannot trust myself; " God be merciful to me a sinner !" " Turn thou me, and so shall I be turned." Such a one is not for making a bargain to be saved upon his own terms, but says, " Lord, save me in any way ! If I have not grace to pluck out a right eye, pull it out for me : if I cannot part with a right hand, cut it off for me : let me be saved, whatever it may cost : let me be taught of God : and if I must have every proud opinion torn up by the roots, so let it be : the Lord grant that I may be cured : that I may be willing to suffer reproach, not only from the world, but from the Church if it be necessary to my healing ; the Lord help me to suspect every thing
that looks like mischief, and to watch on every side ! When a man is taught to speak in this way, God has already begun to exalt him. This is that language of a humble and contrite heart, which, under the Holy Spirit's teaching, has obtained a sense of its natural depravity. Abraham spoke thus trembling, when he said, " Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes." It was the spirit of Peter, — not when he was self-confident and said, " Though all men should deny thee, yet will not I," — but when he said, " Lord, thou knowest all things ; thou knowest that I love thee :" I dare not be confident, I can only appeal to thine all-searching eye ! See the change wrought in Saul, the proud Pharisee, when he termed himself " the chief of sinners !" So Job, " Behold, I am vile." So Jacob, when about to meet Esau, " I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast
428 ORIGI AL THOUGHTS. showed unto thy servant." So Solomon, " I am but a little child ; I know not how to go out, or come in." So Daniel, when he made supplication in sackcloth and ashes. " When Ephraim spake trembling," i. e. when he. was humbled for sin, he was '• exalted." This does not mean that he was puffed up : but it signifies that he was actually exalted by God, prospered, and established. He grew up as a plant that had root, and that was watered. That was a remarkable hint which Samuel gave to Saul, " When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel ?" When Jacob wandered as an exile, and was pursued by his brother Esau, and with humility and prayer wrestled with God for deliverance, he prevailed, and was also exalted : " Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel : for as a prince hast thou power with God and with man, and hast pre-^ vailed." When David was cursed by Shimei, he spake trembling ; q. d. I will bow to my dispensation : I understand it : " the Lord hath bid Shimei curse David :'' and deliverance was then at hand. When Solomon
said, " I am but a little child," he was in the road to become the wisest and greatest man upon the face of the earth. " Before honor is humility." "But when he offended in Baal, he died." How he offended, see in verses 2, 3 ; also 2 Kings xvii. 16 — 18. See also his language at this very time, chap. xii. 8 : " And Ephraim said. Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance : in all my labors they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin." " Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked : then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his Salvation." " The rich man's wealth is his strong city," but it is added, " and as an high wall in his own con-
THE BACKSLIDER I STRUCTED A D ADMO ISHED. 429 ceit." Jeremiah describes this state of mind, chap. V. 27 ; " They are become great, and waxen rich : they are waxen fat, they shine : they overpass the deeds of the wicked : they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless ;" they seem to say, Let us be consequential, and make ourselves of importance in the earth. When the heart turns to any idol (and covetousness is idolatry), nothing can prevent a spiritual death. When Ephraim thus " offended in Baal, he died ;" and no wonder ; if God withdraws, we must die ; and if we offend, God will withdraw. While Ephraim leaned upon God, he was supported by an Almighty Friend ; but when he joined himself to idols, he was left alone, left to suffer the consequences of his backsliding. othing humbles a man more than being left to feel the consequences of his own sin. He who leaves " the fountain of living waters," and goes to " broken cisterns" for supplies, cannot wonder if he find no water in them. Such a backslider may maintain his outward profession, attend the sacrament as usual, but God sees that the inward and spiritual grace is wanting. He says, " Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness :" Hos. v. 12 : as a moth-eaten garment which will not bear the least touch, — every thing may look the same ; but there is a worm, producing rottenness. When a Christian gets
rich in the world, he is very apt to become fearless of the consequences to his soul. There is perhaps a spiritual consumption begun ; but the patient says, I feel no sickness. •* They were filled," says God, " and their heart was exalted ; therefore have they forgotten me : therefore will I be unto them as a lion : as a leopard by the way will I observe them ; I will meet them as a bear that is bereaved of her whelps, and will
430 ORIGI AL THOUGHTS. rend the caul of their heart, and then will I devour them like a lion." Verses 7, 8. Sometimes God punishes an idolater with a sudden natural death ; as in the case of Dathan and Abiram, Achan, &c. It signifies nothing after what a man turns aside. It is absolute trifling for him to say, My idol is not of this form, or of the other. The question is, Have we forsaken the Lord ? Have we turned aside ? There are many methods of varnishing over sin : but how highly soever we may think to polish it, that does not alter its nature. Whatever may have been a man's former profession, if he has in any way turned aside after Baal, he must die. Even David, the man after God's own heart, " offended in Baal :" and if God had not been pleased to restore him, he must have died. So Solomon his son, when he offended in Baal, what a mean debased picture was the latter part of his life ! And he was left to die under obscurity as to his real character. Happy would it be if these sad instances of spiritual decay were only to be found in the history of the ancient Church. But who is there that cannot recollect persons who once ran well, so that wherever they came, society was the better for them, — there was an ointment, a goodly savor that communicated itself to all around — they " spake trembling" — till some moral sickness took hold of them, and they were turned aside after Baal ? It signifies nothing what we have been : the finest flower will wither and die, if we take away from it the air and water. If a man is upon the brink of ruin, he will give this,
among other symptoms : He has ceased to speak with holy fear ; his heart is stout ; he gets heady and incautious ; he has no longer a godly jealousy and holy circumspection. The more self-confident, the greater
THE BACKSLIDER I STRUCTED A D ADMO ISHED. 431 the danger : " Be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long.'* Different ages and dispensations make no sort of difference with respect to the grand leading points of true religion. Death will ensue in every Church as far as it leaves Christ, and sets up Baal. Whenever a Christian becomes self-sufficient, whenever he begins to admire what God hates, and to slight what he commands, he is an offender in Baal. But however apostates ought to tremble, let the backslider return, and lay hold of and embrace the provision God himself has made for such. See Jeremiah, chapters ii. and iii. To a false character, there is no promise. From what has been said, let us endeavor to correct a false taste : which says, " Let us be as gods ;" let us improve our condition : " Let us build a tower, and make us a name in the earth !" God will come and write " Babel," /. e. confusion, on the attempt. The Church of Rome has thus offended ; and i^ it not a monument to this day ? But let us bring the matter nearer home, and come to our own spirit. It should be our utmost care to watch against any plausible arguments for Baal. There is a thief in the house of that man who reposes himself in the lap of carnal security. I tremble for our national safety when I hear people proudly placing their confidence in fleets and armies.* The presumptuous, stout-hearted, self-confident boaster, shall be arrested at last. However we flatter ourselves, and varnish over pride, which God hates, our sin will surely find us out. " A haughty spirit goes before a fall." If we are in the spirit of pride we are * This sermon was preached in the year 1806, at which time Great Britain was engaged, with several other nations of Europe, in a war
against France. — Ed.
432 ORIGI AL THOUGHTS. growing poor. All of us are more or less infected with this sin. We should consider the warnings of God to his Church, which are given in Scripture, as the calls of mercy, and the gracious counsels of Jesus, our Master, to his disciples. The Prophet Hosea abounds with striking descriptions of the symptoms of spiritual declension. He shows us in what a variety of wavs the heart may be turned aside, and decoyed from God. It is like the physician stating the symptoms to his patient, showing him where his danger lies ; and who would bring about a cure, even at the cost of much pain. It is a certain truth, that our idol, while it cannot save us, will sink us. We shall be impoverished by it. It will make us weak, like Samson ; and though, like him, we may think to shake ourselves " as at other times" — to pray as before, and act as in better times — yet we shall find that our strength is departed ; and if we use the same words, we shall have lost the power and unction of them. Let us watch against the paths of the destroyer, which sometimes look very pleasing to the eye ; and the world may call them highly respectable. Finally, learn that holy maxim, " When I am weak, then am I strong." A Christian is to rise, not as the oak, but as the ivy that winds round the oak ; sensible that he is feeble and weak, and that his strength is in another. If the Christian is fruitful as the vine, he is yet tender and weak as the vine, and needs support. The Lord acts towards his children as a tender Father, bidding them beware of the flatterer. It is the Christian's wisdom, and privilege, to walk through his journey as a little child travels over a rough path, clinging to the arm of its parent. He will pray that he ma} not stumble, either in his practice or profession. " When Ephraim spake trembling he was exalted :" he was, at
that time, too strong for earth and hell. So, he that in renunciation of his own strength, has learnt to depend on Jesus Christ, shall be too strong for his enemies. " A feeble saint shall win the day, Though earth and hell obstruct the way."
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