When this is published Linda and I expect to be the other side of the world and I am writing some time before the due date, but after preparing the letter in the last issue of the Gazette I began reading a book by Iain Murray, ‘Evangelical Holiness and other addresses’. Iain has been a good friend to Linda and me for many years and I have always appreciated his writings. As a general rule I would say, if his name’s on the cover it’s a book worth reading.
In this letter I want to give the main headings and few extra sentences of his chapter on ‘Apostasy’. There will be very little of Bernard Lewis original in this, but I present his chapter, because I believe that it is vital in our country and in our church.
He begins by explaining that apostasy is a word borrowed from the Greek ‘to stand for abandoning and deserting God’. He is aware that there are 2 dangers in handling this subject,
1. The danger of being too dogmatic in the interpretation of our times.
2. The danger of spreading discouragement.
He goes on however to argue that it is important to deal with this subject because,
1. The prominence given to the danger of apostasy in Scripture.
2. In twenty-first century Britain we are living in an age of apostasy.
He justifies these statements by presenting the characteristics of apostasy given in Scripture:
i. Self-satisfaction and self-confidence are marks of apostasy.
In this section he quotes Dr. Lloyd-Jones, who when “asked, ‘Do you think revival is near?’ He replied. ‘No, I do not. We are far too healthy.’ When churches ignore the danger of apostasy it is often a sign that the condition has already begun.”
ii. Widespread worldliness in the church is a characteristic of apostasy.
iii. No concern for the evidence of history is another common mark of apostasy.
Forgetting the past was a regular sign of declension in the Old Testament.
iv. When interest in the churches begins to centre round the visual and the sensual it is commonly a sign of impending apostasy.
Unless there is a God-given change, we will see in evangelicalism a developing apostasy.
v. An absence of zeal for the truth is a characteristic of apostasy.
He then goes on to The Causes of Apostasy:
1. The presence of numbers in the church with unrenewed hearts.
The Bible does not teach that any faith saves. Saving faith, the result of divine grace, is always accompanied by a changed heart
… every Christian has unbelief present in his life. It will be with us all our days. We cannot live as we want to do, or witness as we want to do, because we have unbelief at our heels. … The essential preservative from apostasy is faith.
3. An Abused Conscience … Conscience is a God-given monitor … A tender conscience is a conscience that fears sin.
4. Satanic Intervention: Satan knows that men are kept to salvation through belief of the truth; therefore, if truth can be corrupted or denied an apostasy is bound to follow.
5. The judgement of God as a cause of apostasy.
Following those sobering insights into what causes apostasy he shows his pastoral heart by outlining Duties in a Time of Apostasy.
1. An awareness of the danger of false teaching needs reviving.
2. Strong emphasis is needed on progress in the Christian life as the only sure preservative against apostasy. A person has not arrived when they profess conversion; if their new life is real there must be growth, especially in faith; there must be increasing knowledge of Christ and particularly of his present exaltation and heavenly glory.
3. Maintain private and personal communion with Christ. Apostasy commonly begins where attention moves away from the inner spiritual life. … ‘The secret of the church’s comparative failure lies in the eclipse of the individual prayer life. It is to be feared that a host of people who still give formal assent to the truth of Christianity do not cultivate an inner life with God’. (Daniel Lamont The Anchorage of Life).
4. Dependence on the Atoning Death of Christ Alone.
I end this letter with some very solemn words ‘There is a radical difference between a temporary backslider and one who died apostate. One has the principle of eternal life within, the other does not. One is being kept for salvation, the other is not.
The true believer will face temptations to backslide, but calling on God will be ‘faithful unto death and will gain a crown of life’. (Rev. 2:10)
Your Fellow-Traveller on the Journey to Life,
Bernard Lewis September 2014