Avoid Apostasy

But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
~ Proverbs 4:18, 2 Corinthians 7:1

And this will we do, if God permit. Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:
~ Hebrews 6:3, Colossians 1:28

Directions to Avoid the Power of a Prevailing Apostasy, by John Owen. This is from Chapter Thirteen of his work, “Nature & Causes of Apostasy from the Gospel”.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
~ Hebrews 6:4-6

Search the Scriptures. — John 5:39

Our first direction of this kind is, that we should all labour for a true, real sense of the concernment of the glory of God in this matter, and what is our duty with respect thereunto. Where this is not, men are under the power of that security which is the broad way and wide gate leading unto apostasy; yea, where this is not the first and principal thing wherewith we are affected in any evil that falls out in the world, our hearts are not upright in what we profess.

When God threatened to disinherit the Israelites and destroy the whole congregation as one man, in the wilderness, because of their provoking rebellion, that wherewith Moses, in all the circumstances of his relation unto them and interest in them, was affected withal, was the concernment of the glory and name of God therein, Numbers 14:11-19. And it was so with Joshua in the sin and punishment of the same people. “What wilt thou do,” saith he, “unto thy great name?” chap. 7:8,9; words which have been made a public derision in the days wherein we live.

We cannot but have thoughts about these things, for they are the common subject of many men’s discourse: but if our thoughts about them are confined unto a narrow compass, and, so that it be well with us and some few others in whom we are peculiarly concerned, the evil that is come on the world in other places is lightly set by; if we are sensible of no interest of the glory of God, of the honour of Christ and the gospel therein, or are regardless of them, — we are scarce likely to be delivered from that fatal issue whereunto all these things are in an open tendency.

Is it nothing unto us that so many nations in the world, where the profession of the gospel and an avowed subjection of soul and conscience unto Jesus Christ did flourish for some ages, are now utterly overrun with Mohammedanism, paganism, and atheism? Do we suppose these things are fallen out by chance, or come to pass by a fatal revolution of affairs, such as all things in this world are obnoxious unto? Did ever any nation or people under heaven lose the gospel as unto its profession, who did not first reject it as unto its power, purity, and obedience? And is not the glory of God, is not the honour of Christ, peculiarly concerned herein?

Is it nothing unto us that innumerable souls, who yet continue to make an outward profession of the name of Christ, have so degenerated from the mystery, holiness, and worship of the gospel, as to provoke the holy God to give them up for so many generations unto the most woful bondage and slavery that ever any of the children of men were cast under from the foundation of the world, without the least hopes or appearance of relief? And is it not to be bewailed that, such is the power of that apostasy which brought all this evil upon them, as that they have not to this day accepted of the punishment of their sins, nor been bettered by all that they have undergone! And doth not that holy name whereby we are called suffer in these things? Is it not on their account evil spoken of? for do not the miseries, the long-continued, woful calamities and oppressions of innumerable multitudes of great nations, outwardly professing the Christian religion, become a snare to the world and a temptation against the truth of the gospel and the power of Jesus Christ The Jews themselves are not left unto more distresses, nor are more destitute of any pledges of divine protection, nor are more unreformed under their miseries, than many who are called Christians, upon the account of their apostasy from the gospel. It is true, great distresses and sore persecutions may befall the church in its best state and condition, but then God doth so dispose of all things as that their trials shall evidently tend both unto his own glory and their spiritual advantage who are exercised with them; and in the issue the gospel itself shall never be a loser by the suffering of its sincere professors. But in those horrible judgments which have befallen many parts of the apostatised Christian world, nothing offereth itself unto our minds but what is matter of lamentation and temptation.

Is it nothing to us that the greatest number of those who are called Christians, and enjoy prosperity in the world, do live in open idolatry, to the unspeakable scandal of Christian religion and imminent danger unto themselves of eternal ruin? — nothing that so many do openly renounce the humble, meek spirit of Christ and the gospel, endeavouring to persecute, ruin, and destroy other Christians, perhaps better than themselves, because they cannot captivate their souls and consciences in obedience unto their impositions? — nothing to see and hear of all those dreadful effects of this apostasy in all manner of outrageous sins that the world is filled withal?

Certainly, if we are not greatly affected with these things, if our souls mourn not in secret about them, if we are not solicitous about the small remainders of the interest of truth and holiness in the world, we are in no small danger ourselves of being, one time or other, carried away with the deluge.

If we are sensible of the concernment of the glory of God in these things, it may not be amiss to consider what is our duty with respect thereunto.

1. And the first thing required of us is, that we mourn in secret for that sad issue which the profession of Christianity is come unto in the world. God puts an especial mark on them who mourn for the prevalency of sin and the apostasy of the church in any season, Ezekiel 9:4; neither will he have regard unto any others when he comes to execute judgments on ungodly apostates. Men may suffer with them with whom they will not sin; for where we are unconcerned for the sins of men we shall not be so in their sufferings. It is therefore those alone who, out of a sense of the dishonour of God, and compassion towards the souls of perishing sinners, do sigh and cry over these abominations, that shall be either preserved from those public calamities wherein they may issue, or be comfortably supported under them. And there is nothing of a more ominous presage that things are yet waxing worse, than that general regardlessness about them that is among the best of us. Whose “eyes run clown with waters because men keep not the law?” Who doth sufficiently bewail the decays of faith, truth, and holiness, that are in the earth? Most men, like Gallio, either “care for none of these things,” or at best design to save their own houses in the general conflagration. Many measure all things by their own advantage, and can see nothing amiss in the profession of religion but only in the complaints that any things are so. And although the degeneracy of Christianity, in the present professors of it, be grown a common theme in the mouths of most, yet very few are affected with it in a due manner in their hearts.

2. It is in this state of things required of us to pray continually, pleading those promises which are recorded in the word of God for the restoration of the pristine glory, power, and purity of Christian religion. This was the way and means whereby the church was recovered of old, and the same duty is still enjoined unto us, Isaiah 62:6,7; and hereunto are all our present hopes reduced. There is nothing too hard for God. If he will work herein, none shall let him. Things are not gone beyond his cure. He can send peace, and truth, and righteousness from above, and cause them to prevail on the earth. Were all things left absolutely unto the wills of men, in that depraved state whereunto they are arrived in the world, nothing but an increase of overspreading abominations might be expected. Sovereign and effectual grace can yet give relief, and nothing else can so do. Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills and the multitude of mountains; truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel; — but for all these will God be sought unto. And constancy in this duty for others, out of a deep sense of the concernment of the glory of God and zeal for the honour of the gospel, is the most effectual means of our own deliverance and preservation.

3. Constancy in our testimony against the prevalency of this apostasy is required of us. And hereof there are two parts: — (1.) An open, avowed profession of and contending for the faith and troth of the gospel. The public contempt and scorn that is by a prevalent vogue cast on some important evangelical truths is ready to discourage many from the owning and profession of them. Men, for the most part, have so many things to take into consideration before they will undertake the defence of the truth that they can find no season for it, whilst noisome errors are vented every day with confidence and diligence. It is therefore now, if ever, a time for all those in whose hearts are the ways of God to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints.” And if either sloth, or self-love, or carnal fears, or earthly, ambitious designs, do betray any into a neglect of their duty in this matter, it will at one time or other give them disquietment and trouble. But, (2.) Exemplary holiness, righteousness, and fruitfulness in good works, belong unto this testimony against the prevalent apostasy which is required of us. As this is our constant duty at all times, so the progress of the fatal evil complained of renders the doubling of our diligence herein at present necessary, and puts a lustre on it.

Secondly, Those who would be preserved in such a season must keep a due and careful watch over their own hearts with respect unto their duty and danger: for although temptations do abound, and those attended with all sorts of circumstances increasing their efficacy, and the outward means and causes of this evil are multiplied, yet the beginnings of all men’s spiritual declensions are in their own hearts and spirits; for the different effects that these things have upon the minds and lives of men is principally from themselves. As they are careful, diligent, and watchful over themselves in a way of duty on the one hand, or slothful, careless, negligent on the other, so are they preserved or prevailed against. The advice, therefore, I intend is that given by the Holy Ghost in this case: Proverbs 4:23, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life;” or, as it is emphatically expressed in the original, “Above all keeping, keep thy heart.” The greatest exercise of men in the world is about keeping what they have, what they esteem their own; wherewith the desire of adding unto it is of the same nature. What belongeth hereunto, what care, what watchfulness, what diligence, what exercise of their utmost wisdom and industry, all men know, unless it be such as by the power of their lusts are given up unto prodigality and profuseness. But the care and diligence in keeping of our hearts (the Holy Ghost being judge) ought to exceed whatever of that kind is employed about other things; and it is too evident that there is much want of this wisdom amongst us in the world. Of all things, the least diligence is used by many in keeping of their hearts. So they can safeguard their other concerns, the heart may be left to take its own course: yea, the heart is never so much neglected usually, nor more lost, than in the use it is put unto in keeping other things; for whilst it is employed to keep our lives, to keep the world and the things of it, it is lost itself in worldliness, covetousness, carnal wisdom, negligence of holy duties, and barrenness in the fruits of righteousness. That this is no good bargain, that nothing is got hereby, yea, that all will be lost by it at last, heart and world, and every thing wherein we are concerned, the Holy Ghost plainly intimates in this direction, wherein we are commanded above all things to keep our hearts. And we are not only laid under this command, but a cogent reason is added to enforce our obedience: “For out of it are the issues of life.” Hereon do all events depend. The heart being kept, the whole course of our life here will be according unto the mind of God, and the end of it will be the enjoyment of him hereafter. This being neglected, life will be lost, beth here as unto obedience, and hereafter as unto glory. This, therefore, is that which in the first place is to be applied unto the present case. Would any not be overtaken with the power and prevalency of any of the causes of apostasy mentioned before, let them look well unto their own hearts, seeing that from thence are the issues of life.

By the “heart” the Scnpture understandeth all the faculties of our souls, as they are an entire rational principle of all moral and spiritual operations; and so do we also. The preservation of them in their due order, acting in all things according unto their distinct powers, and the duty of the whole soul with respect unto God, is that which is intended by this keeping of the heart. And hereunto, with reference unto the present duty, sundry things do belong in an especial manner; as, —

1. That the heart be kept awake and attentive unto its own deceitfulness. The wise man tells us that “he that trusteth in his own heart is a fool,” Proverbs 28:26. The beginning of all security, — which is an assured entrance into all evil, — lies in men’s leaving their hearts unto themselves and trusting in them. He is no wise man (the Holy Ghost being judge) who, after so many instructions and warnings given us in the Scripture of the deceitfulness of our hearts, or the deceitfulness of that sin which is bound up in them (which is all one), will carelessly trust it with his eternal concernments. The apostle Peter did so once, upon a strong confidence that his heart would not fail him; but we know what was the issue of it. It is apt to be so with most men in this matter. They think, and do really judge, that if all men should fall off and forsake the gospel, either wholly or as unto the degrees in obedience which they have attained, yet they would not so do; but all things are filled with visible examples of their disappointment. There are no apostates but once thought they would not be so; for we speak only of them who had light into and conviction of their duty, and who had therefore necessarily resolutions to continue therein. Wherefore, a constant, watchful jealousy over our own hearts, as to their deceitfulness, their readiness to be imposed on, and secret pretences to countenance themselves in compliance with temptations, is the foundation of all other duties necessary unto our preservation.

Even this also is by some despised. They know of no deceitfulness in their own hearts, nor think there is any such thing in the hearts of others. They cannot but acknowledge that there is mutual deceit enough amongst mankind in the world; but that there should be deceit and treachery in men’s hearts with respect unto themselves, their own actions, duties, and ways, with respect unto God and their own eternal condition, that they cannot apprehend: for what or whom should a man trust unto, if he may not safely repose his confidence in his own heart that it will be always true unto its spiritual and eternal interest? Happy men, were such apprehensions as these to be the rule of their present duty or future judgment! But is it not possible there may be in the hearts of men a blind self-love, so far predominant as practically to impose false apprehensions and notions of things upon the mind and affections with respect unto sin and duty? Is there no disorder in the faculties of our souls, nor confusion in their operations thereon? Are there no remainders of sin inseparable from them in this life, accompanied with all mariner of spiritual deceitfulness? no corrupt reasonings for the procrastination of the most important duties? no inclinations unto undue precedences and presumptions? no vanity or uncertainty in the mind? Or can these things, with the like innumerable, be supposed without any deceit in them or accompanying of them? What one said of old to the Druids, —

“Solis nosse Deos et coeli Numina vobis
Aut solis nescire datum,” —

may be applied unto the men of this persuasion: either they alone know the state of the heart of man with respect unto God, evangelical obedience, and their own eternal interest, or they alone are ignorant thereof. Until, therefore, we have more satisfaction in this novel pretended discovery, we dare not cease the pressing of men to be diligently attentive unto the deceits of their own hearts. If this be neglected, we shall labour in vain, whatever else we do. Blessed is he who thus feareth always! This will make men carefully and conscientiously avoid all occasions of all things, whether in their inward frames or outward practice, that may on any account have a tendency unto a declension from the gospel. A bold, hazardous, careless frame of spirit, venturing on all companies and temptations, complying with vanities and profane communications, offering itself with a fearless confidence unto ways of seduction, through “the cunning sleights of men that lie in wait to deceive,” is that which hath ruined innumerable professors. Self-distrust, humility, fear of offending, with the like soul-preserving graces, will be kept up unto exercise only where men are awake unto the consideration of the deceitfulness of their own hearts.

2. We must keep our heart awake and attentive unto its help and relief; and this lies only in Christ Jesus, the captain of our salvation. After all Peter’s confidence, it was the interposition of Christ alone that preserved him from utter ruin: “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.” And if any can once prevail so far as to deter men from looking for all spiritual help and relief from Christ, for daily supplies of grace and strength from him alone; from a continual application unto him for directing, assisting, preserving, establishing grace (which they variously attempt), — there is no need to fear but they will easily follow them into whatever else either they, or Satan, or the world shall have a mind to draw them. But in all our discourses we proceed on other principles. We look on Jesus Christ as the spring and fountain of all grace, as him who alone is able to preserve us in faith and obedience, and doth communicate supplies of effectual grace unto believers for that purpose. Unto him, therefore, are we to make our applications continually, by faith and prayer, for our preservation, as we are directed, Hebrews 4:15,16. It is he alone who can “keep us from the hour of temptation, which is come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth,” Revelation 3:10. Whosoever, therefore, would be kept from the power of the temptations unto apostasy which every way encompass us, and threaten to bear down all before them, let them keep their hearts continually attentive unto their only help and relief. Those who have not taken in a sense of their danger will see little reason to concern themselves in these directions. But as for such as are affected with the visible ruin of multitudes and their own apparent hazard, from prevailing causes and innumerable occasions thereof, — whose eyes are in any measure opened to see the general inclination that is in the world unto a relinquishment of all the principal concerns of the gospel, and by what various ways that inclination is furthered, followed, and pursued, — they will not think it unneedful to be minded of a help and refuge whereunto they may betake themselves and be preserved.