What is meant by ‘falling away?
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. (Heb. 6:4-6).
And now we answer the question, “What is meant by ‘falling away?’”
We must remind our friends, that there is a vast distinction between falling away and falling. It is nowhere said in Scripture, that if a man fall he cannot be renewed; on the contrary, “the righteous falleth seven times, but he riseth up again;” and however many times the child of God doth fall, the Lord still holdeth the righteous; yea, when our bones are broken, he bindeth up our bones again, and setteth us once more upon a rock. He saith, “Return, ye backsliding children of men; for I am married unto you;” and if the Christian does backslide ever so far, still Almighty mercy cries, “Return, return, return, and seek an injured Father’s heart.” He still calls his children back again.
Falling is not falling away.
Let me explain the difference; for a man who falls may behave just like a man who falls away; and yet there is a great distinction between the two. I can use no better illustration that the distinction between fainting and dying. There lies a young creature; she can scarcely breathe; she cannot herself, lift up her hand, and if lifted up by any one else, it falls. She is cold and stiff; she is faint, but not dead. There is another one, just as cold and stiff as she is, but there is this difference—she is dead. The Christian may faint, and may fall down in a faint too, and some may pick him up, and say he is dead; but he is not. If he fall, God will lift him up again; but if he fall away, God himself cannot save him. For it is impossible, if the righteous fall away, “to renew them again unto repentance.”
Moreover, to fall away is not to commit sin, under a temporary surprise and temptation.
Abraham goes to Egypt; he is afraid that his wife will be taken away from him, and he says, “She is my sister.” That was a sin under a temporary surprise—a sin, of which, by-and-by, he repented, and God forgave him. Now that is falling; but it is not falling away. Even Noah might commit a sin, which has degraded his memory even till now, and shall disgrace it to the latest time; but, doubtless, Noah repented, and was saved by sovereign grace. Noah fell, but Noah did not fall away. A Christian may go astray once, and speedily return again; and though it is a sad, and woeful, and evil thing to be surprised into a sin, yet there is a great difference between this and the sin which would be occasioned by a total falling away from grace.
Nor can a man who commits a sin, which is not exactly a surprise, be said to fall away.
I believe that some Christian men—(God forbid that we should say much of it!—let us cover the nakedness of our brother with a cloak,) but I do believe that there are some Christians, who, for a period of time, have wandered into sin, and yet have not positively fallen away. There is that black case of David—a case which has puzzled thousands. Certainly for some months, David lived without making a public confession of his sin, but, doubtless, he had achings of heart, for grace had not ceased its work: there was a spark among the ashes that Nathan stirred up, which showed that David was not dead, or else the match which the prophet applied would not have caught light so readily. And so, beloved, you may have wandered into sin for a time, and gone far from God; and yet you are not the character here described, concerning whom it is said, that it is impossible you should be saved; but, wanderer though you be, you are your father’s son still, and mercy cries, “Repent, repent: return unto your first husband, for then it was better with you than it is now. Return, O wanderer, return.”
Again, falling away is not even a giving up of profession.
Some will say, “Now there is So-and-so; he used to make a profession of Christianity, and now he denies it, and what is worse, he dares to curse and swear, and says that he never knew Christ at all. Surely he must be fallen away.” My friend, he has fallen, fallen fearfully, and fallen woefully; but I remember a case in Scripture of a man who denied his Lord and Master before his own face. You remember his name; he is an old friend of yours, our friend Simon Peter! He denied him with oaths and curses, and said, “I say unto thee that I know not the man.” And yet Jesus looked on Simon. He had fallen, but he had not fallen away; for, only two or three days after that, there was Peter at the tomb of his Master, running there to meet his Lord, to be one of the first to find him risen. Beloved, you may even have denied Christ by open profession, and yet if you repent there is mercy for you. Christ has not cast you away, you shall repent yet. You have not fallen away. If you had, I might not preach to you; for it is impossible for those who have fallen away to be renewed again unto repentance.
But someone says, “What is falling away?”
Well, there never has been a case of it yet, and therefore I cannot describe it from observation; but I will tell you what I suppose it is. To fall away, would be for the Holy Spirit entirely to go out of a man—for his grace entirely to cease; not to lie dormant, but to cease to be—for God; who has begun a good work, to leave off doing it entirely—to take his hand completely and entirely away, and say, “There, man! I have half saved thee; now I will damn thee.” That is what falling away is. It is not to sin temporally. A child may sin against his father, and still be alive; but falling away is like cutting the child’s head off clean, Not falling merely, for then our Father could pick us up, but being dashed down a precipice, where we are lost for ever. Falling away would involve God’s grace changing its living nature; God’s immutability becoming variable; God’s faithfulness becoming changeable; and God himself being undeified. For all these things falling away would necessitate.