Charles H. Spurgeon
“Will ye also go away?” — John 6:67
NO mischief that ever befalls our Christian communities is more lamentable than that which comes from the defection of the members. The heaviest sorrow that can wring a pastor’s heart is such as comes from the perfidy(1) of his most familiar friend. The direst calamity the Church can dread is not such as will arise from the assault of enemies outside, but from false brethren and traitors within the camp…
In all our churches, among the many who enlist, there are some who desert. They continue awhile, and then they go back to the world. The radical reason why they retract is an obvious incongruity(2). “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us” (1Jo 2:19). The unconverted adherents to our fellowship are no loss to the Church when they depart. They are not a real loss, any more than the scattering of the chaff from the threshing-floor is a detriment(3) to the wheat. Christ keeps the winnowing fan always going. His own preaching constantly sifted His hearers. Some were blown away because they were chaff. They did not really believe. By the ministry of the Gospel, by the order of Providence, by all the arrangements of divine government, the precious are separated from the vile, the dross is purged away from the silver [so] that the good seed and the pure metal may remain and be preserved. The process is always painful. It causes great searching of heart amongst those who abide faithful and occasions deep anxiety to gentle spirits of tender, sympathetic mold…I put it to myself. I put it to those who are the officers of the church. I put it to every member without exception: Will ye also go away?
…Why do [some] renounce the religious profession they once espoused? The fundamental reason is [lack] of grace, a lack of true faith, an absence of vital godliness. It is, however, the outward reasons that expose the inward apostasy of the heart from Christ of which I am anxious to treat.
WHY SOME LEAVE CHRIST: Some there are in these days, as there were in our Lord’s own day, who depart from Christ because they cannot bear His doctrine. Our Lord had more explicitly than on any former occasion declared the necessity of the soul’s feeding upon Himself. They probably misunderstood His language, but they certainly took umbrage(4) at His statement. Hence, there were those who said, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” (Joh 6:60). So they walked no more with Him.
There are many points and particulars in which the Gospel is offensive to human nature and revolting to the pride of the creature. It was not intended to please man. How can we attribute such a purpose to God? Why should He devise a Gospel to suit the whims of our poor fallen human nature? He intended to save men, but He never intended to gratify their depraved tastes. Rather doth He lay the axe to the root of the tree and cut down human pride. When God’s servants are led to set forth some humbling doctrine, there are those who say, “Ah! I will not assent to that.” They kick against any truth that wounds their prejudices.
What say you, brethren, to the claims of the Gospel on your allegiance? Should you discover that God’s Word rebukes your favorite pleasure or contradicts your cherished convictions, will you forthwith take umbrage and go away? Nay, but if your hearts are right with Christ, you will be prepared to welcome all His teaching and yield obedience to all His precepts. Only prove it to be Christ’s teaching, and the right-minded professor is ready to receive it. That which is transparent on the face of Scripture he will cordially accept, as he says, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa 8:20). As for that which is merely inferred and argued from the general drift of Scripture, the true heart will not be hasty to reject, but patient to investigate, like the Bereans, who “were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Act 17:11). Oh! That the Word of Christ may dwell in us richly! God forbid that any of us should ever turn aside offended because of Him, His blessed person, His holy example, or His sacred teaching! May we be ever ready to believe what He says and prompt to do what He commands!…
Others there are who desert the Savior for the sake of gain. Many have been entangled in that snare…If you would make money—and there need be nothing sinful in that—do let it be made honestly. Never let riches be pursued under the presence of religion. Sell your wares and find a market for your merchandise; but do not sell Christ nor barter a heavenly birthright for a worthless bribe. Put what goods you please into your shop window, but do not put a…hypocritical expression on your face or “wear a holy leer” with a view of turning godliness into gain. God save us from that arrant(5) villainy! May it never have a footing in our midst! Does any man join a church for the sake of the respectability it implies, for the standing it may give him, or for the credit he may get? He will soon find that it does not answer his purpose. Then away he will go. The graver probability is that he will be thrust out with shame.
Some leave Christ and go away terrified by persecution. Nowadays it is supposed that there is no such thing. But that is a mistake…Godless husbands play the part of petty tyrants and will not permit their wives the enjoyment of religion, but make their lives bitter with a galling(6) bondage. Employers full often wreak malice on servants whose piety towards God is their sole cause of offense. Worse still, there are working men who consider themselves intelligent, who cannot allow their fellow-workman liberty to go to a place of worship without sneers, jeers, and cruel mocking. In many cases, the mirth of the workshop is never louder than when it is turned against a believer in Christ. They count it rare fun to hunt a man who cares for the salvation of his soul. They call themselves “Englishmen,” but certainly, they are no credit to their country. Look at the base-born, ill-bred cowards.
Yonder is an atheist: he is raving about his rights because the magistrate will not believe him on his oath. He claims liberty of conscience to be a heathen himself, but denies his comrade’s right to be a Christian. Look at that little party of British workmen: they belong to the Sabbath desecration society. They are petitioning Parliament to open museums and theaters on Sundays. At the same time, they are hounding to death a poor fellow who prefers going to chapel. They air their own self-respect by the oaths they utter, while they betray their self-abasement by the scorn they vent on those who presume to sing a hymn. They hail the drunkard as a chum and scout(7) the sober man as a fiend…God give you grace to bear such persecutions as these! If they cut us to the quick, may we learn to bear them with equanimity(8), and even to rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer for the Sav-ior’s sake!
Some of us have had to run the gauntlet for many years. What we have said has been constantly misrepresented. What we have endeav-ored to do has been misjudged and our motives have been misunder-stood. Yet here we are, as happy as anybody out of heaven. We have not been injured by any or all the calumnies(9) that have been heaped upon us. Our foes would have crushed us but, blessed be God, He cheered us often when we were cast down. The Lord give you, in like manner, strength of mind and courage of heart to bear the trial manfully! Then you will care no more for the laughter and the sneers of men than you do for the noise of those migratory birds high overhead, which you hear on an autumn evening as they are making their weary journey to a distant clime. Take heart, man. Fear God, and face your accusers. True courage grows strong on opposition. Never think of deserting the army of Christ. Least of all should you play the cow-ard because of the insolence of some ill-mannered bully. Let not your faith be vanquished by such scoffing…
Anon(10), there are people who forsake true religion out of sheer levity(11). I know not how to account for some men’s defections. If you take up the list of wrecks, you will notice some that have gone down through collisions and others through striking upon rocks. But sometimes you meet with a vessel “foundered(12) at sea.” How it happened no one knows. The owner himself cannot understand it. It was a calm day, and there was a cloudless sky when the vessel sank. There are some professors who, concerning faith, have made shipwreck under such apparently easy circumstances—so free from trial, so exempt from temptation—that we have not seen anything to awaken anxiety on their behalf; yet all of a sudden they have foundered. We are startled and amazed!
I remember one that fell into a gross sin, of whom a brother unwisely said, “If that man is not a Christian, I am not.” His prayers had certainly been sweet. Many a time they have melted me down before the throne of grace; and yet the life of God could not have been in his soul, for he lived and died in flagrant vice and was impenitent to the last. Such cases I can only attribute to a sort of levity that can be charmed with a sermon or a play; take a pew at the chapel or a box at the opera with equal nonchalance(13); and eagerly follow the excitement of the hour, “everything by turns, and nothing long.”(14) Unstable as water, they shall not excel (Gen 49:4). At the spur of a moment, they profess Christianity; they do not espouse it; and then without troubling themselves to renounce it, they drop off into infidelity…You spring up soon, and suddenly you wither. Hardly is the seed sown before the sprout appears. What a wonderful harvest you promise! But ah! No sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than because there is no earth, the good seed withers away…Never cease to pray that you may be rooted and grounded, established and built up in Christ, so that when the floods come and the winds blow, you may not fall with a great destruction, as that house fell which was built upon the sand (Mat 7:24-27).
And, oh! How many leave Christ for the sake of sensual enjoyments! I will not enlarge upon this. Certain, however, it is that the pleasures of sin for a season fascinate their minds until they sacrifice their souls at the shrine of sordid vanity. For a merry dance, a wanton amusement, or a transient joy that would not bear reflection, they have renounced the pleasures that never pall(15), the immortal hopes that never fail, and turned their backs upon that blessed Savior Who gives and feeds the tastes for joys unspeakable, for joys of glory full.
In our pastoral oversight of a church like this, we have painful evidence that a considerable number gradually grow cold. The elders’ reports of the absentees reiterate the vain excuses for non-attendance. One has so many children. The distance is too great for another. When they joined the church their family was just as large, and the distance was just the same. But the household cares become more irksome(16) when the concern for religion begins to flag, and the fatigue of travelling increases when their zeal for the house of God falters. The elders fear they are growing cold. No actual transgression can we detect, but there is a gradual declension over which we grieve. I dread that cold-heartedness. It steals so insensibly, yet so surely over the entire frame. I do not say that it is worse than open sin. It cannot be. Yet it is more insidious(17). A flagrant delinquency would startle one as a fit does a patient; but a slow process of backsliding may steal like paralysis over a person without awakening suspicion. Like the sleep that comes over men in the frozen regions, if they yield to it, they will never wake again…
Unsound doctrine occasions many to apostatize. There is always plenty of that about. Deceivers will beguile the weak. Some have been led aside by modern doubt. Modest infidelity has its partisans. They begin cautiously by reading works with a view to answer scientific or intellectual skepticism. They read a little more and dive a little deep-er into the turbid(18) stream because they feel well able to stand against the insidious influence. They go on until at last they are staggered. They do not repair to those who could help their scruples; but they continue to flounder on until at last they have lost their footing; and he that said he was a believer has ended in stark atheism, doubting even the existence of a God. Oh! That those who are well taught would be content with their teaching! Why meddle with heresies? What can they do but pollute your minds?…Why should you be so unwise as to go through pools of foul teaching merely because you think it easy to cleanse yourself of its pollution? Such trifling is dangerous. When you begin to read a book and find it pernicious, put it aside. Someone may upbraid you for not reading it all through. But why should you?…One sentence of some books ought to be quite enough for a sensible man to reject the whole mass. Let those that can relish such meat have it, but I have a taste for better food. Keep to the study of the Word of God. If it be your duty to expose these evils, encounter them bravely with prayer to God to help you. But if not, as a humble believer in Jesus, what business have you to taste and test such noxious fare, when it is exposed in the market?
1 perfidy – betrayal.
2 incongruity – lack of conformity; something out of place in its context.
3 detriment – loss; damage.
4 umbrage – a feeling of anger caused by being offended. 4
5 arrant – thoroughgoing; extreme example of.
6 galling – irritating; offensive to the mind or spirit.
7 scout – mock at.
8 equanimity – steadiness of mind under stress.
9 calumnies – false accusations; malicious misrepresentations.
10 anon – from time to time.
11 levity – instability.
12 foundered – sunk.
13 nonchalance – casual lack of concern.
14 Lord Byron (1788–1824) – English poet; a leading figure of the Romantic Movement.
15 pall – become unsatisfying.
16 irksome – troublesome.
17 insidious – spreading harmfully in a subtle way.
18 turbid – murky.
From Absconding and Apostasy, published on Thursday, March 22, 1917.
Charles H. Spurgeon (1834–1892): Influential English Baptist minister; history’s most widely read preacher (outside the Bible); born at Kelvedon, Essex, England.
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