Vol. 1 - No. 1
A Voice From The Past
A Rebuke To Backsliders
by Cled Wallace
(Note from the publisher: We hope to make this a regular feature. This article from Cled Wallace was taken from the Gospel Advocate of September, 1938. Cled was a close personal friend of mine and was a prince among writers.)
''Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee.'' (Jeremiah 2:19) Thus warned the prophet of Jehovah as the chosen people were poised for a headlong plunge into disaster. "Know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and a bitter, that thou hast forsaken Jehovah thy Cod, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts."
The apostasy of Israel is the more astounding in view of the unmistakable manner in which Jehovah championed their cause. He humbled proud Egypt and caused the crack cohorts of Pharaoh to sink like a stone in the Red Sea in their deliverance from bondage. He gave them a law and a religion and confirmed them by such manifestations of power as to make all doubt of their divine origin absurd. Monumental days and institutions abounded so that they could not forget. Jehovah put the fear of his people into the hearts of all others. There was no excuse at all for backsliding. Yet the time came when kings priests and prophets voiced their ingratitude and shame: "Who say to a stock Thou art my father; and to a stone Thou hast brought, me forth." (Jeremiah 2:27) It was a dizzy descent from singing the song of deliverance to Jehovah on the bank of the Red Sea to the adulation of stocks and stones in Canaan. Such an apostasy was gradual, and every backward slip is a warning.
The tragedy was easily classified and its causes analyzed in the hour of bitter retribution. "Know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and a bitter, that thou hast forsaken Jehovah thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts." The prodigal swaggered away from home with money in his pocket and lust in his heart. The evil and bitterness of it overcame him when nothing was left for his belly but "the husks that the swine did eat." There was neither excuse nor mitigation. "He came to himself." "I have sinned." "I will arise and go to my father." Israel's sin was obvious and there could be only one cure. "For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water."
God is the source of life and power. His institutions and revealed provisions are the means by which men must contact this life and power. When the nation became more impressed by the customs of the tribes about them than by the will of God, and clapped their hands as they reached for the baubles of idolatry rather than worshipping Jehovah according to his ordinances, then apostasy became a fact. Men drink at "the fountains of living water" when they keep the commands of God. They "hew them out cisterns broken cisterns that can hold no water" when they ignore the divine will, clearly expressed as it is, and substitute their own ways and plans Human churches human plans, human creeds human traditions in religion even though they may parade under the sobriquet of "sanctified common sense" are broken cisterns that can hold no water. Who is dumb enough to hew out a cistern even if it would hold water, when there is a fountain of living water accessible, abundant, pure and free? The answer to that one is easy. You find him in religion. He is the religionist that prefers man's ways and institutions to God's. "Behold this only have I found: that God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions." (Ecclestiastes 7:29) Man is so blinded by his vanity that a broken, leaking cistern of his own design and building will hypnotize his famished soul while the fountain of living waters flows near by unnoticed and untasted. Behold the party pride with which men gloat over their puny substitutes for the gospel.
Maybe you never heard of a stump-sucking pig. I am told that pigs have been known to develop a mania for sucking stumps. A pig will stand for hours and suck at a knot on a stump. He will not even quit to drink slop or eat corn. He sticks to his stump. What he gets out of his stump sucking is about as wholesome as what the religionist gets out of the cistern he has hewed which can hold no water. Stump suckers and cistern diggers in religion are numerous enough in the present setup to justify repeated emphasis of the prophet's warning.
In the use of striking figures the prophets are unsurpassed. Apostasy or chronic backsliding are made to appear silly and unnatural. "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me." Rebellion of a son against a just and wise father is a sinful and unnatural act. "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider." (Isaiah 1:3) That is God's way of telling us that some people have less sense than an ox or an ass. The well‑trained ox might be guilty of occasional aberrations and the humble ass might develop irritating idiosyncrasies, but the ox knows whom he belongs to and the ass knows where the barn door is. In the light of the Scriptures the backslider is dumber than either one. Out in the West should a farm animal display such chaos in his discriminations, his owner would suspect that he had got hold of a locoweed. "Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers children that deal corruptly! they have forsaken Jehovah, they have despised the Holy One of Israel they are estranged and gone backward." (Isaiah 1:4)
A man might be justified in risking even a broken cistern were it the only prospect. But the apostate and the innovationist deliberately propose to dig a cistern that will surpass "the fountain of living waters." And they will not even give up when their cistern is finished and will not even hold water! "Wherefore will ye contend with me? ye all have transgressed against me, saith Jehovah." (Jeremiah 2:29) Every effort to add to or take from the word of God is to contend with Jehovah. It is an assertion of the superiority of man's ways over God's ways. This spirit of contention with God is the same spirit of lawlessness that was beginning to work in the church in Paul's day and grew into the Roman Catholic Church. It has brought about every change that may be identified as a compromise of doctrine or a corruption of worship. It‑is not that God has not spoken plainly about the church its mission, membership, organization., worship etc. Men prefer to hew out them some cisterns. Cistern hewers are responsible for all the institutions and traditions in religion we cannot read about in the New Testament. Regarding them the Lord said: "Every plant which my heavenly Father planted not, shall be rooted up." (Matthew 15:13) "Hold the pattern of sound words which thou hast heard from me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 1:13) He who does that is drinking at the Fountain.
The nation of Israel was so influenced by its neighbors that it was willing to change the form of government, though it was warned that it was rejecting God as King in so doing. The early church was influenced by pagan Rome to such an extent that it finally surrendered the simplicity of the gospel in organization. The church today should keep its eye on the pattern and not be influenced to deviate from it by the highly advertised "efficiency" of modern religious institutionalism.