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away ?” Will you follow their example ? or will you abide with me? Peter, in the name of the rest, dreading the thoughts of apostacy, answered, “ Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life;" we can never expect so much happiness from another. And he answered well ; for those who forsake Christ will never mend themselves, go where they will.
The words may be usefully applied to ourselves. Let us consider Jesus as putting the same question to us; and may we, with Peter's sincerity, make the same reply!
I. Let us consider the question, “ Will ye also go away ?”
This question was put to persons who had professed some regard for Christ; they had seen his miracles with admiration; they had heard his preaching with delight; and they had crossed the lake to meet him again. The same question, therefore, as put to us, supposes a professed regard for Christ, as set before us in the Gospel ; for if we have not, in some sense come to him, of course we cannot forsake him. But as the people of old followed him from false motives, and with wrong views, it may be proper for us to consider what it is that makes many among us profess to follow him; and it is plain that the little profession which some make is the mere effect of custom. They are Christians because their parents were such, and because their neighbours are such. It is the religion of the country; and were these people in Turkey, they would be Mahometans. The influence of superiors, or friends, sometimes brings them to hear the gospel; and the love of novelty keeps them under it for a time. Some persons are much struck with the fervency of a minister of Christ, who speaks in earnest, and from the heart; while the seriousness, the fervour, and the singing of a lively congregation, make an additional impression. Self-interest and worldly advantage make other men professors, as the people referred to in our text followed Christ for the loaves and fishes. A few others were alarmed by sickness and the fear of death, or affected at some public calamity.
But if a person's religion has no better foundation than these afford, we wonder not at his apostacy. Sooner or later such professors will go back, and follow Christ no more : and the world abounds with temptations, which will be fatal to those who have not “ the root of the matter” in them. It may be profitable to point out some of these.
Persecution frightens some. Our Lord has bid us expect opposition in following him; for “they who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” We must “ take up the cross” if we follow him; and those who sit not down to count the cost, will be offended when the trial comes. If relations and friends are angry and frown upon them ; if superiors and employers withdraw their favours; if their neighbours ridicule and laugh at them, they begin to repent of becoming religious : they regard man more than God, and resolve to be religious only so far as may consist with their worldly ease and advantage. These are the people described by our Lord in the parable of the sower, Matt. xiii. 20. “ He that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it. Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for awhile ; for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.”
Worldly pleasures, worldly cares, and worldly connexions, make others forsake Christ. The Christian's is a spiritual life; whoever is led by the Spirit, will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh, nor walk according to the flesh. “ If we live after the flesh we perish ; but if we, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, we shall live." If we are Christians indeed the world will be crueified to us, and we to the world, and though we are in it, we shall not be of it: but if the professor forgets this, and is drawn by degrees in to self-indulgence ; if he gets a taste of gaiety and public amusements; if he can visit the play-house, and sit down at the card-table, he will gradually lose the savour of the Gospel : and finding a manifest contradiction between the two masters he serves, he will soon quit one of them; he cannot follow Christ and the world too.
Excessive cares are almost as dangerous ; they distract the mind, and make it unfit for religious duties : they steal away the heart from Christ. Anxiety about the world perplexes the mind; and they who “will be rich," and determine, at all events, to make a fortune, usually make such compliances, with that view, as are inconsistent with their profession; they “fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” 1 Tim. vi. 9. Thus our Lord saith, “He also that received seed among the thorns, is he that heareth the word ; and the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.”
Worldly connexions ruin others. It is a precept of great importance, but too little regarded, “ Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers.” Christians should marry“ only in the Lord.” How many “bave made shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience," by neglecting this rule : and by presuming upon their ability, both to keep their own ground and influence their partner also! When Lot was about to leave Sodom, the angels bid him give warning to all his relations of the destruction that was coming. Accordingly “ he went to his sons-in-law, who married his daughters, and said, Up! get ye out of this place, for the Lord will destroy this city ; but he seemed to them as one that mocked.” Thus the two daughters, who
had married carnal men, perished, while the two who were with him at home, escaped the fire with their father. Gen. xix.
Familiarity with worldly men has a bad influence on the mind. “ They that feared the Lord, in old time, spoke often one to another." The primitive Christians were much together, and continued daily in social religion; and while they did so, they were edified and multiplied. But if professors needlessly associate with wicked and vain persons, they will soon resemble them, learn their manners, and go back from Christ.
Negligence in religious duties is another cause of apostacy. The means of grace are of divine appointment; they are wisely calculated to promote the life of God in their souls; and they have the promise of the Lord's blessing to make them effectual; they cannot therefore be slighted without injury. As the body must suffer if there be not proper attention to wholesome food, so the soul must be injured, if ordinances be omitted, or carelessly attended. Declensions in religion usually begin in the closet, then extend to social duties, at length to the duties of the Sabbath and the house of God. Be not slothful, then, bụt “be diligent; followers of them who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises.”
The falls and divisions of some professors have a very ill effect upon others. It is common for beginners in religion to entertain too high an opinion of serious characters, and to place too much confidence in them; and if any of those miscarry, they are hurt, and rashly conclude that there is no reality in religion; but they forget that there was a Judas among the twelve, and in every age there have been apostates: “nevertheless, the foundation of God standeth sure; the Lord knoweth them that are his.” But “woe to the world,” and to ignorant professors of this sort, because of offences; " for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh.”
This chapter will furnish us with another common cause of apostacy. We shall find that it was the doctrine of Christ which offended those “many disciples, who went back, and walked no more with him." "Let us see what this offensive doctrine was.
The multitude had followed him because of the miraculous entertainment he gave them. This raised their hopes of his being a temporal king, and of their getting rich in his service. Our Lord, who knew their thoughts, directed them to seek, not the bread that perisheth, but that which endureth to eternal life; not meat for their bodies, but for their souls. He also declared himself to be that meat; that he came down from heaven; that he would give his flesh for the life of the world ; and that except a man should eat his flesh, and drink his blood, he could have no life in him; but that whoever should partake of him, should never die, but have eternal life.
These high and mysterious declarations confounded · and offended them; they murmured when he said he came down from heaven; for they knew Joseph, his reputed father; and having no spiritual ideas of his discourse, they cried, “ How can he give us his flesh to eat?” In short, they thought these “ hard sayings," not to be understood or believed.
Our Lord still maintained the doctrine of his descent from heaven; and intimated, that, ere long, they would see him ascend thither. He told them, that eating his flesh, was not to be taken in the gross sense of the words, but was to be understood spiritually. He also showed them, that their cavils and murmurs arose from the ignorance, corruption, and unbelief of their hearts; and that they needed divine teaching to make them wise to salvation ; and that no man could or would come to him, and believe upon him, without superior assistance. “No man can come unto me, except the Father, who sent me, draw him.”
These were the sublime and mysterious, but great