Probation lasts while life lasts. Every day a man lives in sin he is becoming hardened in sin, and the probability of his ever becoming converted is lessened.
The longer and more faithfully one lives in the service of God, the more confirmed are his habits of piety and obedience to God; and the harder it is to turn him aside into any of the ways of sin; still, till one gets through to glory there is a possibility of falling. God is able to keep us. He inspires and prompts and leads, but he never interferes with the freedom of the will.
All along the way of life there are by-paths, which lead into the broad, well-traveled road that ends in destruction, and anyone may easily pass over to it if he will. Those who have for many years done valiant service in the cause of God are not exempt from the danger of falling and, if they forsake God, they insure their destruction just as certainly as if they had never known him.
“When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die” (Ezek. 18:26). Solomon was the ablest man of his age. His intellect was of the highest order; his knowledge unequaled. He had been brought up in habits of piety. His conversion was clear, and to him was made a miraculous manifestation of God’s presence and blessings.
For many years he had the clearest evidence of the fulfillment of God’s promises in his behalf; and yet we read: “For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father” (1 Kings 11:4).
If Solomon fell when he was old, then who is exempt from the liability of falling when he is old, and after he has spent happy years in the service of God? One danger of backsliding when one is old results from the love of peace and tranquillity which grows upon us as we grow in years. We do not like contention: “Young men are for war.” Old men have had enough of it.
They have seen that its track is strewed with desolation, and that all the Christian graces and useful arts flourish best in times of peace. Especially do the aged want peace in the family. This was the case with Solomon. He did not forsake God because he had any inclination himself to do it; but his wives were clamorous.
They wanted altars built for their false gods; so Solomon, for the sake of peace, hearkened to their requests and built an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. He did not tear down the altar of Jehovah; sacrifices were offered upon it as usual. He only compromised.
The same thing, in substance, is often done in our day. Men who have served God faithfully for years; who have clear convictions of the incompatibility of Baal-worship with the worship of Jehovah, will, at the instigation of their wives, pay their money for the support of Masonic preachers in whose Christianity they have no confidence: and for the rent of pews, when they know that God’s house should be just as free as his proffered grace.
As in the case of Solomon, they may keep up the form of worship and so they fail to see, until too late, that they have in reality backslidden from God. It is better to have war than wantonness in the household. It is more necessary to be true to the principles of the gospel than to have peace.
Another cause of backsliding is love of money. Many, as they grow old, grow covetous and stingy. The stream of beneficence flowing from them grows smaller the longer it flows. The less use they have for money, the more they love money. They hoard up property for relations who do not need it, and who will spend it in the service of the devil.
As an old writer expresses it, “They go to hell making money, and their heirs go to hell spending it.” They hope to have durable riches, though they have not been “faithful in the unrighteous mammon” (Luke 16:11). They hope God will give them a heavenly inheritance, and yet they do not give God any part of the earthly inheritance which for a little time he entrusted to their hands. They do not even remember him in their wills.
Ye who are on the downhill side of life, will you not listen to the words of warning written in love by one of your number? Let us see to it that whatever suffering fidelity to God may cost us, we endure to the end. Let us not be weary in well-doing. The reaping time is at hand. Let us go on till the Master calls, and “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
Whatever of conflict may await us, let us say with Paul: “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy.” Then, when the warfare is ended, we shall be able with him to say: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7, 8).