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THE FOLLY OF LOOKING BACK IN FLEEING OUT OF SODOM.
Remember Lot’s wife.
THE doctrine from these words was, That we ought not to look back when we are fleeing out of Sodom.—Having confirmed this doctrine by several reasons, we came to the application of it in a use of warning to sinners in a natural state, and especially to those who are awakened and convinced of the awful state in which they are, and are desirous of escaping the wrath which is to come. And further to enforce this warning, let me entreat all you who are in this state, to consider the several things which I shall now mention:
1. The destruction of which you are in danger is infinitely more dreadful than that destruction of the literal Sodom from which Lot fled. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in a storm of fire and brimstone, was but a shadow of the destruction of ungodly men in hell, and is no more to it than a shadow or a picture is to a reality, or than painted fire is to real fire. The misery of hell is set forth by various shadows and images in Scripture, as blackness of darkness, a never-dying worm, a furnace of fire, a lake of fire and brimstone, the torments of the valley of the son of Hinnom, a storm of fire and brimstone. The reason why so many similitudes are used, is because none of them are sufficient. Any one does but partly and very imperfectly represent the truth, and therefore God makes use of many.
You have therefore much more need to make haste in your escape, and not to look behind you, than Lot and his wife had when they fled out of Sodom; for you are every day and every moment in danger of a thousand times more dreadful storm coming on your heads, than that which came on Sodom, when the Lord rained brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven upon them; so that it will be vastly more sottish in you to look back than it was in Lot’s wife.
2. The destruction of which you are in danger is not only greater than the temporal destruction of Sodom, but greater than the eternal destruction of the inhabitants of Sodom. For however well you may think you have behaved yourselves, you who have continued impenitent under the glorious gospel, have sinned more, and provoked God far more, and have greater guilt upon you, than the inhabitants of Sodom; although you may seem to yourselves, and perhaps to others, to be very harmless creatures. Matt. x. 15. “Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.”
3. Multitudes, while they; have been looking back, have been suddenly overtaken and seized by the storm of wrath. The wrath of God hath not delayed, while they have delayed; it has not waited at all for them to turn about and flee; but has presently seized them, and they have been past hope. When Lot’s wife looked back, she was immediately destroyed, God had exercised patience towards her before. When she lingered at the setting out, the angels pressed her, and her husband and children, to make haste. Not only so, but when they yet delayed, they brought her forth, and set her without the city, the Lord being merciful to her. But now when, notwithstanding this mercy, and the warnings which had been given her, she looked back, God exercised no more patience towards her, but proceeded immediately to put her to death.
Now God has in like manner been merciful to you. You in time past have been lingering; you have been warned by the angel of your danger, and pressed to make haste and flee; yet you have delayed. And now at length God hath as it were laid hold on you, by the convictions of his Spirit, to draw you out of Sodom; and therefore remember Lot’s wife. If now, after all, you should look back, when God hath been so merciful to you, you will have reason to fear, that God will suddenly destroy you. Multitudes, when they have been looking back, and putting off to another time, have never had another opportunity; they have been suddenly destroyed, and that without remedy.
4. If you look back, and live long after it, there will be great danger that you will never get any further. The only way to seek salvation is to press forward with all your might, and still to look and press forward, never to stand still or slacken your pace. When Lot’s wife stopped in her flight and stood still in order that she might look, her punishment was, that there she was to stand for ever; she never got any further; she never got beyond that place: but there she stood as a pillar of salt, a durable pillar and monument of wrath, for her folly and wickedness.
So it was very often with backsliders, though they may live a considerable time after. When they look back, after they have been taking pains for their salvation, they lose all, they put themselves under vast disadvantages; by quenching the Spirit of God, and losing their convictions, they dreadfully harden their own hearts, and stupify their souls. They make way for discouragements, dreadfully strengthen and establish the interest of sin in their hearts, many ways give Satan great advantages to ruin them, and provoke God oftentimes utterly to leave them to hardness of heart. When they come to look back, their souls presently become dead and hard like the body of Lot’s wife. And though they live long after, they never get any further; it is worse for them than if they were immediately damned. When persons in fleeing out of Sodom look back, their last case is far worse than the first; Matt. xii. 43, 44, 45. And experience confirms, that none ordinarily are so hard to be brought to repentance as backsliders.
5. It may well stir you up to flee for your lives, and not to look behind you, when you consider how many have lately fled to the mountain, while you yet remain in Sodom. To what multitudes hath God given the wisdom to flee to Christ, the mountain of safety! They have fled to the little city Zoar, which God will spare and never destroy. How many have you seen of all sorts resorting out of Sodom thither, as believing the word of God by the angels, that God would surely destroy that place. They are in a safe condition; they are got out of the reach of the storm; the fire and brimstone can do them no hurt there.
But you yet remain in that cursed city among that accursed company. You are yet in Sodom, which God is about so terribly to destroy, where you are in danger every minute of having snares, fire, and brimstone, come down on your head.—Though so many have obtained, yet you have not obtained deliverance. Good has come, but you have seen none of it. Others are happy, but no man knows what will become of you: you have no part nor lot in that glorious salvation of souls, which has lately been among us.—The consideration of this should stir you up effectually to escape, and in your escape to press forward—still to press forward—and to resolve to press forward for ever, let what will be in the way, to hearken to no temptation, and never to look back, or in any wise slacken or abate your endeavours as long as you live, but if possible to increase in them more and more.
6. Backsliding after such a time as this, 6565 The time of the revival of religion at Northampton, A. D. 1735. will have a vastly greater tendency to seal a man’s damnation than at another time. The greater means men have, the louder calls and the greater advantages they are under, the more dangerous is backsliding, the more it has a tendency to enhance guilt, to provoke God, and to harden the heart.
We, in this land of light, have long enjoyed greater advantages than most of the world. But the advantages which persons are under now for their salvation, are perhaps tenfold what they have been at such times as we have ordinarily lived in; and backsliding will be proportionably the greater sin, and the more dangerous to the soul. You have seen God’s glory and his wonders amongst us, in a most marvellous manner.—If therefore you look back after this, there will be great danger that God will swear in his wrath, that you shall never enter into his rest; as God sware concerning them that were for going back into Egypt, after they had seen the wonders which God wrought for Israel. Numb. xiv. 22, 23. “Because all those men that have seen my glory and my miracles that I did in Egypt, and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it.”—The wonders that we have seen among us of late, have been of a more glorious nature than those that the children of Israel saw in Egypt and in the wilderness.
7. We know not but that great part of the wicked world are, at this day, in Sodom’s circumstances, when Lot fled out of it; having some outward, temporal destruction hanging over it. It looks as if some great thing were coming; the state of things in the world seems to be ripe for some great revolution. The world has got to such a terrible degree of wickedness, that it is probable the cry of it has reached up to heaven; and it is hardly probable that God will suffer things to go on, as they now do, much longer. It is likely that God will ere long appear in awful majesty to vindicate his own cause; and then none will be safe that are out of Christ. Now therefore every one should flee for his life, and escape to the mountain, lest he be consumed. We cannot certainly tell what God is about to do, but this we may know, that those who are out of Christ are in a most unsafe state.
8. To enforce this warning against looking back, let me beseech you to consider the exceeding proneness to it there is in the heart. The heart of man is a backsliding heart. There is in the heart a great love and hankering desire after the ease, pleasure, and enjoyments of Sodom, as there was in Lot’s wife, by which persons are continually liable to temptations to look back. The heart is so much towards Sodom, that it is a difficult thing to keep the eye from turning that way, and the feet from tending thither. When men under convictions are put upon fleeing, it is a mere force, it is because God lays hold on their hands, as he did on Lot’s and his wife’s, and drags them so far. But the tendency of the heart is to go back to Sodom.
Persons are very prone to backsliding also through discouragement. The heart is unsteady, soon tired, and apt to listen to discouraging temptations. A little difficulty and delay soon overcome its feeble resolutions. And discouragement tends to backsliding: it weakens persons’ hands, lies as a dead weight on their hearts, and makes them drag heavily; and if it continue long, it very often issues in security and senselessness. Convictions are often shaken off that way: they begin first to go off with discouragement. Backsliding is a disease that is exceeding secret in its way of working. It is a flattering distemper; it works like a consumption, wherein persons often flatter themselves that they are not worse, but something better, and in a hopeful way to recover, till a few days before they die. So backsliding commonly comes on gradually, and steals on men insensibly, and they still flatter themselves that they are not backslidden.—They plead that they are seeking yet, and they hope they have not lost their convictions. And by the time they find it out, and cannot pretend so any longer, they are commonly so far gone, that they care not much if they have lost their convictions. And when it is come to that, it is commonly a gone case as to those convictions. Thus they blind themselves, and keep themselves insensible of their own disease, and so are not terrified with it, nor awakened to use means for relief, till it is past cure.
Thus it is that backsliding commonly comes upon persons that have for some time been under any considerable convictions, and afterwards lose them. Let the consideration of this your danger excite you to the greatest care and diligence to keep your hearts, and to watchfulness and constant prayer against backsliding. And let it put you upon endeavours to strengthen your resolutions of guarding against every thing that tends to the contrary, that you may indeed hold out to the end, for then shall you know, if you follow on to know the Lord.
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