15 June 2007
Return--He will receive you!
Murillo’s The Prodigal Returns
"Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto you; for you are the Lord our God."—Jeremiah. 3:22.
There are some unveilings of God’s heart, which can only be understood and met by responsive unfoldings of ours. It is not the flinty, impervious rock that welcomes and absorbs the heaven-distilling dew. Upon such an object in nature, beautiful and grand though it may be, the life-quickening moisture, thus descending, is a thankless and fruitless offering—a useless expenditure of one of nature’s richest treasures. But let that dew, noiseless and unseen, fall upon the flower, the herb, the tree,—the earth which the ploughshare has upturned and the furrow has broken,—and how refreshing the boon, and how rich the return! Thus is it with such an exhibition of the heart of God as that which we have just presented—inimitable in its tenderness, unsurpassed in its condescension and grace. Let these words distill upon any other than a heart humbled, softened, lying low in a low place, in the consciousness of its sinful departure, its sad backsliding from God, and they awake no tender, holy, grateful response. How beautiful are the reciprocal influences of the human and the divine, as presented in the narrative! "A voice was heard upon the high places, weeping and supplications of the children of Israel: for they have perverted their way, and they have forgotten the Lord their God." That voice of weeping entered into the ears of God, and lo! the gracious invitation—"Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings." And then follows the instant and grateful response—"Behold, we come unto you; for you are the Lord our God." Mark, how divine and restoring grace gently falls upon the lowly, penitent, returning soul; and then how the sin-contrite heart of the child goes forth to meet and embrace the sin-forgiving heart of the Father. Few will read the pages of a work designed to proffer a helping hand to Zion’s travelers to whom that hand will be more needful and acceptable than the awakened, returning backslider. To such, languid and fainting, depressed and despairing, hesitating to return, doubting God’s welcome,—evidences lost, soul-beclouded, fears rising, hope veiled,—the strongest cordials of God’s most gracious, full, and free promises are needful to rouse, revive, and reassure the wanderer that the Lord invites, receives, and welcomes the returning backslider—the child retracing his way back to his forsaken Father.
God addresses them as backsliding CHILDREN. He can never forget His parental relation to them, though they may forget or abuse their filial relation to Him. Children though we are, adopted, sealed, and inalienably entitled to all the covenant blessings of adoption, we are yet backsliding children. The heart is ever swerving from God. The renewed soul possesses the principle of its own departure, contains the elements of its own declension, and but for the electing love, the restraining grace, the illimitable power of God, would destroy itself entirely and forever. Having in a former treatise (Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul) gone somewhat at length into the nature, causes, symptoms, and recovery of spiritual declension, my object now is specifically to meet that state of lukewarmness, tenderness, and hesitancy which marks the tremulousness of the contrite heart returning to God.
The language in which God addresses you is most reassuring. He calls you "children;" though a backslider, yet a child. Can the human parent ever forget, in the deepest provocation of his offspring, that still he is his child? God here meets His wanderer just where that wanderer stands most in need of a Divine assurance. What relation is it which spiritual backsliding the most contravenes, which sin the most obscures, and of which unbelief and Satan, presuming upon that backsliding, would suggest to the mind the strongest suspicion and doubt? We answer—the relation of Divine sonship. The backslider reasons thus—"Is my adoption real? Can I be a child of God, and prove so base, sin so deeply, and depart so far from my God? If a son, why am I so rebellious, disobedient, and unfaithful? Surely I cannot belong to the adoption of God, and grieve and wound the Spirit of adoption thus?" Now God meets the wanderer just at this critical juncture. He declares that though a backslider, yet he is still His child, and that no departure however distant, and that no sin however aggravated, has impaired the strength or lessened the tenderness, tarnished or shaded the luster of that relation. If God, then, comes forth, and, despite our backsliding, recognizes our son-ship, and acknowledges us as His children, who shall dispute or contravene the fact? "Let God be true, and every man a liar." Such, beloved, is the first consolation I suggest to your sad and depressed soul. Could it be surpassed by anything else I may offer?
What! does God still call you His child? Does He not disown and disinherit you as a son of God and an heir of glory? Ah, no! He cannot forget that He has predestinated you to the adoption of children, that His Spirit has been sent into your heart, and that in happier days gone by you have often called Him "Abba, Father." And although you have been rebellious, backsliding, and stiff-necked, yet, taking with you words and turning to the Lord your God, He meets you as once He met His repenting, mourning Ephraim— "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself . . . Is Ephraim my dear SON? is he a pleasant CHILD? for since I spoke against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my affections are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, says the Lord," (Jer. 31:18, 20.) Clear is it, then, that God’s children do backslide; that it is no strange thing that their love to Him should wax cold, their faith decline, their strength decay, their zeal slacken, their godly frames grow sleepy and inert, the spirit of prayer be restrained, the means of grace be neglected; and, as a consequence of all this inward declension, the world should have an ascendancy, Satan prevail, and the sin that does most easily beset them attain a momentary triumph. But still they are God’s children,—O wondrous grace! O changeless love!—and chastened, corrected, rebuked, and humbled, their heavenly Father will restore them to His pardoning love and gracious favor, and they shall again walk with Him filially, humbly, softly, as His dear children, "when He is pacified towards them for all that they have done."
What an invitation! "RETURN!" It is GOD who speaks it—the God from whom we have revolted, departed, and gone so far astray. It is the word of our Father, against whom we have rebelled, so deeply, so grievously sinned. He trammels His invitation with no conditions. His simple word is—"Return unto me!" And more than this,—He has placed before us an open door of return through Jesus His beloved Son. The covenant of works provided no restoration for the soul that departed from God under the first testament. But the covenant of grace has this distinction, this glorious feature—it places before the penitent backslider, the contrite child, an open door of return, a way of restored pardon, joy, and peace, and bids him enter. The Lord Jesus is this open door. The blood of Jesus, the righteousness of Jesus, the intercession of Jesus, the grace of Jesus, the quenchless love of Jesus, the outstretched hand of Jesus, unite in guiding the trembling footstep of the returning soul back to its Father. The present efficacy and the continuous presentation of the Lord’s sacrifice in heaven, blended with His intercessory work, personally and constantly prosecuted before the throne, are a warrant that this door to God shall never be closed while there lives a penitent sinner to enter it. Beware of shading the luster of this truth—the present efficacy of the blood. "The blood of Jesus Christ CLEANSES"—it is in the form of the present tense the great truth is put. The past is gone, the future all to us unknown—it is with the present we have to deal. A present sorrow needing comfort, a present perplexity needing guidance, a present burden demanding support, a present sin asking forgiveness, with a present Savior prepared to meet and supply it all. Grasp this truth with all the intensity of your faith under present circumstances. Brood not over what is past, yield to no forebodings and fears as to what may be the future—grapple with the present. For it you have a door, which God Himself has opened and which neither man, nor Satan, nor sin, shall shut. You have a throne of grace now inviting your approach; and you have the blood of Jesus with which to enter, as new, as efficacious, as prevalent, and as free as when it streamed from His sacred body on the cross. Let there be no postponement, then, of your return to God. Tarry for no more favorable moment, wait not for a better frame, dream not that Christ will be more willing to present, or that God will be more ready to receive you at any future time than now; or, that by delaying you will be more worthy of His acceptance. Vain reasoning! God says, "Return unto me, and He means by this, "Return NOW!"
And what is the promise? "I will heal your backslidings." Backsliding from the Lord involves wounds, bruises, dislocation. It wounds the conscience, it bruises the soul, it breaks the bones of our strength, and causes us to travel in pain and halting many a weary step. Ah, there is nothing so wounding as departure from God! Nothing so bruising of the soul’s peace and joy and hope as sin! Who can heal, who can bind up, who can mollify, who can reset these broken bones so that they shall rejoice again, but our sin-pardoning God? We have no self-power in this great matter of restoration. All that we can do is to make burdens, forge chains, carve crosses, inflict wounds,—in a word, destroy our own selves. Listen to David’s experience—"I have gone astray like a lost sheep." This is all that he could do. But mark his conscious helplessness,—"seek your servant;" and then observe the imperishable nature of the grace of God in his soul,—"for I do not forget your commandments," (Ps. 119:176.) Of how many who bend over these pages will this be a faithful portrait! Lord! I can leave Your fold, can willfully depart from Your ways, can basely turn my back upon Yourself; but You must go in quest of me, seek and restore my soul; and this I may venture to ask, since I have not forgotten the happy days when Your candle shone upon my head, when Your light guided me through darkness, when the name of Jesus was as ointment poured forth, when I walked in sweet and holy communion with You, and fed with the flock beside the Shepherd’s tent. "I do not forget your commandments." God will forgive! Christ will bind up the broken heart!
The Comforter will restore joy to the soul! There is still balm in Gilead, and a Physician there. The healing balsam still bleeds from the wounded, stricken Tree of Life. The gate of paradise is yet unclosed, its portal garlanded with a thousand exceeding great and precious promises, all inviting your entrance and insuring you a welcome to its sunny banks, its shaded bowers, its peaceful quiet streams. "Who is a God like unto you, that pardons iniquity, and passes by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retains not his anger forever, because he delights in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and you will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea," (Micah 7:18, 19.) What glad tidings these astounding words contain to repentant back-sliders! What a bow of promise and of hope do they paint upon the dark cloud of despair which enshrouds the soul! "He will turn again." Though He has turned a thousand times before, yet, "He will turn AGAIN;" not "seven times" only, but "seventy times seven."
And what is the response of the returning soul? "Behold, we come unto you; for you are the Lord our God." Behold, we come! just as we are. We come from the swine’s trough; we come from feeding upon husks, upon ashes, and upon the wind. We come with the bruise, the wound, the dislocated limb. We come deploring our fall, confessing our departure, mourning over our sin; receive us graciously, love us freely, and turn your anger away from us. "I will arise and go unto my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned."
What! after all that I have done—in the face of my willful transgression, of my base ingratitude, of my abused mercies, of my past restorings, of my aggravated departures, of all the past of Your mercy, Your goodness, Your faithfulness, Your love, do You still bid me return? Does the overture, the outstretched hand, the first step, come from You? Then, behold, I come unto You, for You are the Lord my God! Your power draws, Your goodness dissolves, Your faithfulness binds my heart, and, lo! I come. Your grace restores, Your love pardons, Your blood heals my soul, and, behold! I come. Your voice, so kind, invites me; Your feet, so unwearied, seek me; Your hand, so gentle, leads me; Your look, so loving, so melting, so forgiving, wins me: and, Lord, I must not, I dare not, I cannot stay away. Behold! I come unto You.
"Jesus, let Your pitying eye
Call back a wandering sheep;
False to You like Peter, I
Would gladly like Peter weep.
Let me be by grace restored;
On me be all patience shown;
Turn and look upon me, Lord,
And break this heart of stone.
"Look as when Your grace beheld
The harlot in distress,
Dried her tears, her pardon sealed,
And bade her go in peace;
"Foul, like her, and self-abhorred,
I at Your feet for mercy groan:
Turn and look upon me, Lord,
And break this heart of stone.
"Look as when, condemned for them,
You did Your followers see;
‘Daughters of Jerusalem!
Weep for yourselves, not me.’
And am I by my God deplored,
And shall I not myself bemoan?
Turn and look upon me, Lord,
And break this heart of stone.
"Look as when Your languid eye
Was closed that we might live:
‘Father,’ (at the point to die
My Savior cried,) ‘forgive;’
Surely with that dying word,
He turns, and looks, and cries, ‘Tis done!’
O my gracious, bleeding Lord,
You break my heart of stone!"
Octavius Winslow, Help Heavenward