Returning to Our First Love Part 3 of 3

Returning to Our First Love
by Archibald Alexander

Part 3 of 3

"Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candle-stick out of his place, except thou repent" (Rev 2:4-5).

[Ed. Note: We have seen in the first two parts of this experimental sermon, what is the first love that the Lord speaks about, and what are the causes and symptoms of backsliding or leaving the first love. The sermon concludes in this final instalment with an exhortation to return to the first works. — JJ Lim]

The last thing which we propose to consider is the return of the soul to its first love. Backsliding Christians might, in justice, be cast off forever; but God, who has entered into covenant with his people, is faithful; and one of the promises of the new covenant is, that he will "heal their backsliding." The good Shepherd looks after his wandering sheep, and restores them. But this he does by bringing them to a deep conviction of their sin. Their second conversion is, like the first, attended with many painful and anxious feelings, but after many discouragements, they are enabled to come to Christ and cast themselves upon his mercy; and to their astonishment, their reception is most gracious. They are welcomed as though they had never offended, and are restored to the joy of the divine favour.

But let us attend to the directions given in the text, to the Ephesian Christians. And the first is, to remember whence we have fallen. In a state of declension, there is a strange forgetfulness of former experience in the divine life. It is, therefore, very significantly represented by a state of sleep. The very first step towards a return to God, is to be awakened from this spiritual slumber; to remember what we once possessed and enjoyed, and to compare our present condition with our former. This awakened recollection will lead the soul to understand the cause of its departure from God, and to trace all the steps of its retrograde course. Memory is a valuable faculty of our minds, and its exercise is of much avail in religion. "Remember!"

My hearers, our exalted Saviour seems to address this word unto us. Let us, then remember what we once were; what lively feelings of penitence, love, and joy, sweetly mingled their emotions in our early experience in religion. Let us remember what hopes we then cherished, what resolutions we formed—yea, what solemn vows we made and recorded in the house of God. Did we then suppose, that we should ever become so cold and indifferent in our religious feelings as at present? When aged Christians warned us of our danger, we were disposed to think that their solicitude in our behalf was superfluous, for we were confident, that we should never decline from the walk of faith. Our foresight was, indeed, short; by insensible degrees we left our first love, and have wandered like straying sheep. But now, again, the good Shepherd causes us to hear his voice. And his first call to us is to "remember"—to remember whence we have fallen. This is in order to the next step, which is TO REPENT. Be sorry for what you have done. We should be willing to admit the painful, humbling conviction that we have grievously and foolishly sinned, in departing from the living God. Sin is embittered to none, more than to the penitent backslider; especially the sin of ingratitude breaks his heart. He is astonished at his own blindness and unbelief which prevented him from seeing the snare which the enemy spread to entangle his feet. O what infatuation! After having tasted the joy of pardoned sin, and after being favoured with the spirit of adoption, to turn again to folly. This fills him, on the recollection, with astonishment and regret; and he now asks himself, "What fruit had ye in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?" Where now are the promised pleasures of sin? Alas! That which was sweet in the mouth is turned to gall and wormwood in the stomach. Remember, then, from whence thou hast fallen and REPENT.

But our obedience must not be confined to the feelings and affections of the heart, however pious and penitent these may be. A good tree will produce good fruit. Our Lord, therefore, adds, "and do the first works." Immediately, on a sinner’s first conversion, he begins to work. "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" is the language of every renewed heart. "He that hath my commandments and keepeth them," saith our Lord, "he it is that loveth me." "If ye love me keep my commandments." But in a state of backsliding, the commandments of Christ are neglected, or obeyed in a very imperfect manner. Undue conformity to the world takes the place of self-denial, and formality is substituted for spirituality, in the worship of God. But when the backslider is reclaimed—which is really a new conversion—he is again led to engage cordially in the service of God. He now returns to the performance of his first works, as well as to the exercise of his first love. He again abounds in prayer and praise, makes the Sabbath a delight, and counts it honourable; draws nigh to God in the holy supper; and is found walking in all the commandments of the Lord, blameless. He does justly; loves mercy, and walks humbly with his God. The heart of a reclaimed backslider is sure to be more humble and distrustful of itself than before. There is also, now, more caution and watchfulness, in regard to the heart. It has been found to be "deceitful above all things," and, therefore, ought not to be trusted. The vain self-confidence of such, is now completely cured. The reclaimed penitent knows, experimentally, that his standing is not in himself; that unless he is preserved by the grace of God, he will certainly fall away again.

The penitent backslider is especially on his guard against those sins and temptations by which he was overcome, when he departed from God; so that, in all his after life, he is more secure from these, than from other sins.

Two feelings are predominant in the exercises of a returning backslider; these are shame, and a lively feeling of the baseness of ingratitude. Such a soul is ashamed to look up, and is often so confounded and overwhelmed with this feeling, that it remains silent before God. This frame of mind is vividly described by Ezekiel in the following language: "That thou mayest remember and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee, for all that thou hast done, saith the LORD GOD."

The mercy of God, in graciously receiving the returning backslider, appears to him more wonderful than it did on his first conversion, and his admiration of the long-suffering of the Lord is greatly enhanced. It is true, then, that God in his wisdom, overrules even the falls and declensions of his people, to increase their humility and watchfulness. The reclaimed backslider is also rendered more charitable and forbearing to his brethren, when they appear delinquent in duty, or are overtaken in a fault.

Let all churches make the inquiry seriously and honestly, whether they have not left their first love. With many, the fact is notorious; their departure from God may be said to be visible and great. Where is now that fervent affection and ardent zeal which once characterized them? Where now is that spirit of earnest, wrestling prayer, which seemed as if it would give God no rest until he should cause the righteousness of Zion to go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof, as a lamp that burneth? Where now is that fruitfulness in works of piety, mercy, and benevolence, which adorned your profession?

"Remember, therefore, from whence ye are fallen and repent, and do your first works." Otherwise, the threatening against Ephesus, so fearfully executed, may be realized in your case. Your candlestick may be removed. Darkness may succeed to light. Error may overspread the church. Faithful ministers may be withdrawn, and false teachers may come in their place. For your own sakes, and that of your posterity, awake out of your sleep. Seek the Lord for the return of his grieved Spirit. Cry mightily to God for his reviving influences.

As every church consists of individuals, I would call upon all professors to consider their ways.

Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith, and whether you are in a growing, thriving condition; for if not, you are surely in a state of declension. There is no standing still in religion. If you are not pressing forward, you are certainly retrograding. You are, this day, solemnly called upon to remember the times and seasons which are past—to remember the love and joy of your espousals unto Christ, when the candle of the Lord shone upon your tabernacle; and when your chief delight was in the service of God; when the very name of Jesus, was as ointment poured forth—when he gave you songs in the night, and in the morning, your first thoughts spontaneously arose to God your Redeemer. Then you could say, "It is good for me to draw near to God." "Whom have I in heaven but thee?" "There is none in the earth that I desire besides thee." "One day in thy court is better than a thousand, and I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of God, than dwell in the tents of sin." Then you rejoiced, when they said, "Come, let us go up to the house of the Lord."

But how is it with you now? What does conscience testify as to your present condition? What testimony would your closet give, if it could speak? Alas! what a change! Where now are your religious comforts? What has become of that sweet peace you once enjoyed? Perhaps, you even doubt of the reality or genuineness of your former experiences. You have, like the virgins in the parable, fallen into a slumbering state, in which the awful truths of religion are dimly perceived, and make but a slight and transient impression on your mind, when they occur to your thoughts. To you, I would say, "Awake out of sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." Remember from whence you have fallen; repent and do your first works. Your present situation is one of extreme danger. While in this deadening state, you cannot possess satisfactory evidence of the genuineness of your piety. While in this state you cannot glorify God, nor be useful to men according to your ability and opportunity. And how sad your condition, if death should find you in this unprepared state! "O that they were wise, that they would consider their latter end."

If there should be any present who have been made sensible of their sinful departure from God, and who are sunk in discouragement, and agonized with fear, lest they have sinned beyond the reach of mercy and bounds of forgiveness, and who, by these views are prevented from returning, to such I would say, dishonour not God, by entertaining such hard and unbelieving thoughts. His mercy is infinite. As high as are the heavens above the earth, so high are his thoughts of mercy above our conception. He has left special promises for the encouragement of such as you; and he has never rejected one who came unto him. You cannot gratify the heart of your sympathizing Saviour more, than by exercising confidence in his power and willingness to save you.

I would conclude by addressing you in the language of God by the prophet Hosea: "O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words and turn to the Lord; say unto him, take away all iniquity and receive us graciously—for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy." To which his gracious answer is, "I will heal their backslidings and love them freely; for my anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel; he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under his shadow shall return, they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine. The scent thereof shall be as the cedars of Lebanon; and Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?" Amen. W