Partial or Final Apostasy?

Ebenezer Erskine

“From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” John 6:66

WHEREIN lies the difference between the partial and temporary defections of the godly and these total, final, and irrecoverable apostasies of hypocrites and temporary believers? Unto which I answer

1. The believer, when he is left to backslide or to fall into any sin, howls and groans under it. It lies heavy on him, like a burden too heavy for him to bear. “Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me” (Psa 40:12). They can never enjoy themselves with satisfaction until they be recovered again. An instance of this we have in the Apostle Peter, after he had been left to make that foul step of defection in denying Christ with curses and imprecations(1). After Christ gave him but a look, he went out and wept bitterly. The same we see in David (Psa 51). After he had been guilty of murder and adultery in the matter of Uriah and Bathsheba, how doth he lament and bewail his folly! And that which principally touches them is not so much the penal, as the moral evil of their defection. They are not so much grieved that they themselves suffer, as that God is dishonored and religion wounded by their means, as we see in David. “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight” (Psa 51:4).

2. They are never at rest or ease until they have the guilt and filth of their sin expiated(2) and washed away by the blood and Spirit of the Lord Jesus. All the world will not quiet their consciences until this be obtained. “O,” says David, after he had made this foul step, “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psa 51:2). And again, “Purge me with hyssop(3), and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (51:7). The hypocrite, when he falls, satisfies the clamors of his conscience either by extenuating his sin or by multiplying his duties…But he never runs to Christ to have his conscience sprinkled from dead works.

3. The believer, after he has fallen, doth not satisfy himself with a turning from sin unto God, but he must have some reviving intimations of God’s favor and reconciled countenance. As David, “Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice” (51:8). Though all the world should fawn(4) upon him, yet it will not please him, unless he gets a smile from God Himself.

4. The [believer’s fall] leads him to bewail the corruption and depravation(5) of his nature. He traces the streams to the fountain, sits down there, and weeps over it as the cause of all his defections and backslidings from God, as David did. “Behold I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me” (51:5). [He] looks up to God for a cast of renewing grace, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (51:10). Hypocrites bewail the loss of their reputation more than they do their sin or the depravation of their nature.

5. When believers fall, they come under fresh engagements through grace to walk more closely with God than ever they have done before. [They] endeavor to be more serviceable to Him in their generation than ever, as David. “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation…Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee” (51:12-13).

6. As burnt bairns(6) dread the fire, they are afraid of falling into the same sins again. For this end, [they] indent(7) with God, not in their own, but only in His strength to keep them, as David. “Uphold me with thy free spirit” (51:12). And again elsewhere, “Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not” (Psa 17:5). And, “O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!” (Psa 119:5). Now, from these marks of the partial falls of the godly, ye may easily gather the difference between them and the damnable apostasy and total defection of hypocrites and reprobates.


1 imprecations – blasphemies.
2 expiated – wiped out.
3 hyssop – an aromatic shrub, generally considered to be the Syrian marjoram, used by the Jews for Passover rites, the purification of lepers, plague, and at the red heifer sacrifice.
4 fawn – lavish caresses on.
5 depravation – moral perversion.
6 bairns – children.
7 indent – enter into an agreement.


From “The Backslider Characterised” in The Whole Works of the Late Rev. Ebenezer Erskine, Vol. 1, reprinted by Tentmaker Publications.

Ebenezer Erskine (1680–1754):  Scottish divine; born in Dryburgh, Scotland.

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