The Backslidden Heart
by Charles W. Conn

T

he possibility of a backslid­den heart is a sobering thought. A man’s heart ‘does not always agree with his actions and deeds. He may through habit or expedi­ency compel himself to follow certain routines long after his heart has ceased to be in it.

The Scriptures repeatedly warn us of the possibility of backsliding in heart even though we may continue to give the Lord ap­parent service and worship. This was the meaning of Jesus when He said:

This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the com­mandments of men (Matthew 15:8, 9).

It is a tragic thing to see one who is backslidden in heart. The love and warmth of God is departed from the heart, even though the person may continue to perform perfunctory Christian duties. Ezekiel says: “With their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their cov­etousness” (Ezekiel 33:31).

In the course of Christian history there have been many persons who have continued to talk glibly about the love of Christ even after their own hearts have gone down a blind alley after worldly affection or selfish gain. Expediency may have compelled them to continue an outward life of piety even when the heart was a dry and cracked cistern, without the water of the Spirit, without the tenderness of love.

Not all backsliders participate flagrantly in the things of sin or the affairs of the world. For one reason or another they find it advantageous to continue in ap­parent Christian service even though their hearts are far from Him. Speaking of those whose hearts depart from the Lord, Jeremiah said: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and des­perately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

The possibility of a backslidden heart should disturb us all. It is not enough that we go through the form of worship: our hearts must be the source of our worship and our divine energy. Our hearts not only should conform to our spiritual exercises, but should actually motivate our Christian living. Religious activity without a spiritual heart is like a sound­ing brass and a tinkling cymbal.

We deceive ourselves when we suppose that our adherence to ecclesiastical rules and laws is a guarantee of our spiritual well­being. It is possible for me to observe all restrictions and laws with severity and rigor, and still have a heart that is far from the Lord. If that sounds like a hard thing to say, you must remember that the Scriptures repeatedly warn us of the possibility of wor­ship that comes from the lips and not from the heart; of service that is performed by the body but not with the heart.

Religious activity without a spiritual heart is like a sound­ing brass and a tinkling cymbal.

Have you ever thought what it would be like if the thoughts of your heart were audible? You may be able to force your lips to say what is convenient to be said, but you cannot force your heart to say what it does not believe. Let us look at a few of the things a backslidden heart will say.

Notice that the fool says in his heart that there is no God (Psalm 53:1). It would certainly be disadvantageous to say so with the lips; so “the fool” might have been saying outwardly that God is great and God is good.

The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground? (Obadiah I :3 ).

The lips may utter pious words of self-abnegation when the heart is filled with pride and self. It is to our advantage to appear modest and humble before men, but what do our hearts say? Proverbs 14: 14 warns us that “the backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways.”

How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow (Revela­tion 18: 7).

From a heart of pride the apostate church in the last days will regard herself still as a queen. Pride of form, glory of the past, and contentment with self can and will drive any church from the power and the purity of Christian service.

It has long been a common practice in our churches to testify that we expect the Lord to return soon. But what do our hearts say about it? I know what you say with your lips-I can hear that; but what do you say in your heart?

But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to cat and drink, and to be drunken; The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him (Luke 12: 45, 46).

Like the evil servant, many among us say in their hearts that the Lord delayeth His coming. A man who longs in his heart for Christ’s return, and believes with his heart that Christ will return, will be sincere in his worship and fervent in his service. Belief in the heart that Christ is coming again will cause a man to live like Christ. He will deal kindly with his fellowman; he will pay his just debts; he will quit wire­pulling for position and advan­tage; he will subordinate his selfish interest to the interest of Christ; and he will be more con­cerned with spiritual prosperity than with physical comfort and material gain.

Men may watch our deeds, but God watches our hearts. Men may listen to the words of our lips, but God hears the words of our hearts. To be the true servants of Christ we must be upright in our deeds and truthful in our hearts.

“Lord,” said the Psalmist David, “who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?”

And then the answer came: “He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart” (Psalm 15: 1, 2).

The Reverend Dr. Conn (Litt.D.), former general overseer, is president of Lee College in Cleve­land, Tennessee.

This article originally appeared in the September 24, 1973 issue of Evangel.