CAUTION AGAINST DECLENSION IN RELIGION
Matthew 24:12-13. Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
THESE words are a part of the discourse which our Lord held with four of his disciples in private, after he had retired from the Temple to the Mount of Olives [Note: Compare Mark 13:1-4. with Matthew 24:1-2.]. Being in full view of the Temple, his disciples were struck with the magnificence of its appearance, and expressed to him their admiration of it: from whence he took occasion to foretell the speedy destruction of it, and to give them signs whereby they should ascertain the approach of the judgments which awaited their whole nation. At the same time he gave them instructions for their own support and comfort under all the trials which they themselves should endure previous to that time. He told them what evil treatment they should meet with from the enemies of his Gospel; and what difficulties they should encounter from his pretended friends. Their trials from without must be waved at present. Those from within we propose for our present consideration.
In the words before us our Lord suggests to his disciples,
I. The danger of spiritual declension—
Independent of the proneness of man at all times to backslide from God, there is a danger arising to us from the conduct of those with whom we stand connected. The bitterness of persecution, or abounding of corruption, may operate to abate our zeal in the service of our God; but the falls and offences of those who profess religion have a peculiar tendency to discourage the people of God; and it is to this, we apprehend, our Lord more especially refers.
Such events must be expected in every age—
[If we consult the Holy Scriptures, we shall find that, even in the apostolic age, multitudes who were once hopeful, declined from the ways of God, and made shipwreck both of faith and of a good conscience [Note: 2 Timothy 1:15; 2 Timothy 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:10.] — — — And what is there to prevent a recurrence of the same evils? As long as the heart of man is so evil and so treacherous, it will ever be prone to start aside from God, even as a broken bow — — —]
Whenever they do happen, they tend to quench the love even of the most established—
[Great disappointment is felt by all the members of the Christian Church: and every one feels a portion of that disgrace which the instability of any member brings upon the whole body. From the frailty of some, the fidelity of others begins to be questioned: evil surmisings arise: a coolness and distance are occasioned among the brethren: the communion of the saints is interrupted; and their associations for holy exercises are less frequented, or less enjoyed [Note: Hebrews 10:24-25.]. Divisions then ensue: each leader endeavours to increase the number of his partisans: and thus all that union and harmony which should characterize the family of Christ, is destroyed.
Hence arises also a coldness of heart towards God himself, and a loss of fellowship with him — — — In a word, the almost inseparable effect of an irruption of iniquity into the Church of God is, that “the love of many at least, if not of all, will wax cold.” One single “root of bitterness springing up, will trouble and defile many [Note: Hebrews 12:15.].”]
Such danger always existing, we proceed to suggest,
A preservative against it—
Two things are certain, namely, That on our continuance in well-doing our salvation depends; and, That by our continuance in well-doing our salvation is secured: and the consideration of these two points will, under God, prove an excellent antidote against all the dangers to which we can be exposed.
Consider then, that
1. On our continuance in well-doing our salvation depends—
[To this truth the whole voice of Scripture bears witness. We know full well that there are many promises made to the people of God; and that of those who have been given to Christ he will lose none. But it were a dreadful perversion of those promises, to think that we can be saved in any other way than that of “a patient continuance in well-doing [Note: Romans 2:7.].” We must not attempt to make void the most positive declarations of Holy Writ [Note: Ezekiel 18:24; Ezekiel 33:12-13.Hebrews 10:26-27; Hebrews 10:38-39.] — — — but must learn, like the Apostle Paul himself, to make them an incentive to unwearied watchfulness and diligence [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:27.] — — —]
2. By our continuance in well-doing our salvation is secured—
[The promise in our text is absolute and universal: and throughout every part of Scripture God says to us, “Be thou faithful unto death; and I will give thee a crown of life” — — — We need not disquiet ourselves about God’s fulfilment of his promises: let us only attend to our own duties, and leave him to accomplish his own word in his own time and way. We shall find at last, that “not a jot or tittle of his word has ever failed” — — — The words of our text were fulfilled literally to every true disciple at the destruction of Jerusalem, when every apostate perished. A refuge was provided for the whole body of Christians, at Pella, and a way was opened for their escape thither: and so it shall be in the day of judgment, when Christ’s faithful servants universally, and they only, shall be saved.]
3. The consideration of these truths would be an effectual preservative against spiritual declension—
[Suppose iniquity to abound ever so much, what is that to us, except as a matter of grief and lamentation for the persons who commit it? Let the iniquity shew itself in any persons, or in any degree, it is no reason that our love to God and man should wax cold: it should rather operate as a reason for us to stir up our love to a flame, in order to impede the progress of the corruption, or at least to prevent its assaults upon our own souls; as travellers in a wilderness kindle fires around them, in order to protect themselves from the assaults of ravenous and ferocious beasts. At all events, however much any persons may injure their own souls, and endanger their own salvation, it becomes us to take care that they do not destroy or injure us — — —]
Let us above all things cultivate a spirit of love—
[This is the characteristic feature of all God’s children: and the want of it, whatever else we may possess, proves us to be only as sounding brass or as tinkling cymbals [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.]. A growth in this is the surest evidence of our growth in grace [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4.] — — — and by this, more than by any thing else, is our establishment in the divine life secured [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13.] — — — Let us then “take care lest any root of bitterness spring up in our hearts;” and let us daily “put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness [Note: Colossians 3:14.].”]
2. Let us beg of God the assistance of his Holy Spirit—
[The consideration of our final happiness depending so entirely on our own continuance in well-doing, would be discouraging, if we did not know, that God has promised to us the aids of his Spirit; and that “the grace of Christ shall be sufficient for us.” See how graciously the Lord supported Paul, when all his Christian friends had forsaken him in his greatest extremity: “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge: notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me [Note: 2 Timothy 4:16.].” Thus shall you find him present with you in every hour of trial, and be made “more than conquerors through him that loved you.”]