One day Charles Spurgeon was walking with a fella down the street when they came upon a drunken man staggering in the alley. Spurgeon’s companion turned to him and said, “Isn’t that one of your converts?” Spurgeon quipped, “It must have been. He sure wasn’t one of the Lord’s.”
We laugh at this story because of Spurgeon’s quick wittedness but there must have been a ton of pain behind it. There are few things that dishearten and sadden a minister like knowing one “got away”.
The Lord spoke of those who would fall on bad soil. When you experience that first hand it is painful. It’s painful to see the one who shoots up quickly, giving hope to many people, and then just as quickly drifts away. When you’ve baptized this person, started discipling them, and even started dreaming about how the Lord might use them—it is such a blow when they drift away from Christ and the gospel.
This isn’t something new to the church of today. John Newton and other ministers of his day experienced similar heartache. If you are following us in our year with Newton I had you read a few letters of Newton’s counsel to a pastor who found himself in such a discouraging situation. From these letters I think Newton would tell us at least 7 things about those who’ve turned away.
- Duty is our part; the care is his. We must keep faithfully preaching and discipling. It is not in our hands to keep sheep. Jesus will do this infallibly.
- Keep watch over yourself. The pain of seeing someone turn their back on Christ should stir us up to watch over our own souls.
- Know that God isn’t shocked. None can pluck from His hand. God isn’t shocked by apostasy. He foretold it in His Word.
- Teach your people to bank on what God has clearly said and not on impressions. Newton is tremendously helpful here. I’ve witnessed people say “the Lord failed me” simply because some impression that they thought was the Lord didn’t come through. Teach people to bank on the certain foundation of God’s Word and you’ll have less of this.
- Pray. Wait. Hope for the Best. We don’t know that those who turn away are turning away to their ruin. Keep praying for them, wait for them to return as the prodigal’s father did, and hope for the best to happen.
- Don’t mistake the unsteady growth of a new believer with apostasy. Sometimes new believers will hit Bunyan’s slough of despond. Let’s not mistake these early trials for outright apostasy.
- If they are true believers they will escape out of Satan’s hand. For a season it may appear that all your efforts are lost. But if they are true believers they will, by grace, squirm out of the hand of the enemy.
It’s painful when someone turns away. But let us continue to trust the Lord and keep our hands to the plow.