We have three great enemies ever seeking to overcome us: the world, the flesh, and the devil. And in proportion as we give place to any of these, we depart from God. These three we find in Peter's case in Luke 22. In verses 45 and 50 he is led away by the flesh, in sleeping when he should have watched, in striking when he should not have resisted. In verses 54 and 55 he is led astray by the fear of the world: first, in straying far from Christ's side; second, in fellowship with His enemies. And, last, in verses 57, 58, and 60, he is thrice led astray by the devil: to deny Christ, to swear, and to deny Him again.
One might, indeed, say such a course is foreshadowed in the first Psalm. The counsel of the ungodly, the dictates of fleshly reason, led to the smiting with the sword; standing in the way of sinners is illustrated by standing and warming himself; while sitting in the seat of the scornful is found in verse 55.
The Path of the Backslider
And now, dear reader, what about yourself? Listen to the following words:—
There is no heart in the wide world so unhappy as his who has been drawn aside from the holiness and joy of obedience, to paths of self-seeking and of sin.
“What peaceful hours I once enjoyed,
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill.”
And such is the language, in poetry or in prose, of the soul whose earliest love has been left; who has, alas, in some way or other, forsaken the Lord for the enjoyment of the favors of the world.
“My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” Jer.2:13. Such was God's lamentation of old. How rightly He styled Himself “THE FOUNTAIN OF LIVING WATERS” - the source and spring of blessing; and how solemnly descriptive is the expression, “broken cisterns, that can hold no water,” of the experience acquired by departing from Him.
He knows where the blessing is found. We, alas, often through seas of sorrow, have to learn that the cisterns to which we have recourse are, in truth, broken, and that they hold no water, and that there remains, as the only result of our declension, an aching void, a distracted and discontented heart — a state of soul, indeed, which had no parallel in the most wretched hours of our unconverted days.
Ah, beneath many a smiling face, behind many a ringing laugh, underlying much forced activity and unnatural effort, there is to be found a heart of misery, that seeks by these means to conceal the fact of its departure from God.
And yet how vain that effort — how hollow that laugh! The stag may continue to bound gaily over crag and moor, and the bird may soar awhile swiftly on high, but the gunshot wound is doing its work, and, sooner or later, the gay bounding will cease, and the strong wing will droop. So, too, the Word of God will prove effectual, though long slighted; and the wayward soul, though brought by paths of deep and searching trial, will find that the love wherewith it was loved was an “everlasting love”; such a love as could turn its eye, full and forgiving, on a poor failing Peter, and effect by its silent, yet wounded look, his entire restoration.
Thou Hast Left Thy First Love
Do you not own and feel the truth of these words? Can you not recall, with an aching heart, the bright and holy memories of the past, the once loved Bible, the place where “prayer was wont to be made,” the happy work for your Lord? It may be some poor, cold, formal task, professedly for Him, still occupies you, but all the time you hear His voice ever saying, “Thou hast left thy first love.” You have gradually not only left the things you once loved, but returned to those you once hated for Christ. The ensnaring novel, eating away your brain and time, the worldly song, the amusements of this world, are all binding their chains around you, and you are not happy. You try to be, but you cannot succeed. You envy the happy carelessness of the dead souls around you. They feel no remorse; the pleasures of the world contain no hidden sting for them. They have never known and loved the Saviour you have forsaken. The voice of conscience is not ceaselessly saying to them, as to you, “You are doing wrong. You are sinning against the light.” Consider now, where was your first step of departure? Was it not so small as to be almost imperceptible? You did not begin by throwing away your Bible for a romance; you did not at once exchange the meeting for the concert hall. No! the first thing was a gradual neglect of private reading and prayer. As your heart got cold, and you lost your interest in it, the devil whispered, “Give it up; it is no use going on with a form; wait till your heart gets warm again,” well knowing that in saying this, he was cutting you off from the warmth and light. And you obeyed him. You did not read or pray this morning when you arose, nor yesterday, nor the day before. O, beloved reader, truly yours is a sad case; but yet, there is abundant grace to meet it.
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