One of the most glorious joys of the pastorate is in the conversion of the lost and one of the saddest is the falling away of one who professed faith in Christ and his work to save them. You continue to preach the Word of God in the Scriptures and watch as their hearts are hardened to the gospel and their conscience seared by willful disobedience and unbelief. It can lead us to ask if there is an “early warning system” that can detect a deepening hardness of heart?
Yes, there is.
In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, just at the point where Christian, Hopeful and Ignorance draw near to the Celestial City, Hopeful and Christian fall into a discussion of people like Ignorance who walks behind them. Hopeful has just given the reasons for a deepening hardness of heart and Christian gives the how. It’s an early warning system. The sentences in italics are mine:
1. They draw off their thoughts, all that they may, from the remembrance of God, death, and judgment to come. There is a forgetfulness of God and forgetfulness of the fact that one day we are to meet Him.
2. Then they cast off by degrees private duties, as closet prayer, curbing their lusts, watching, sorrow for sin, and the like. There is a gradual loss of private holiness. A laziness grows.
3. Then they shun the company of lively and warm Christians.
4. After that, they grow cold to public duty, as hearing, reading, godly conference, and the like. There is a disinterest in public worship.
5. They then begin to pick holes, as we say, in the coats of some of the godly, and that devilishly, that they may have a seeming color to throw religion (for the sake of some infirmities they have espied in them) behind their backs.
6. Then they begin to adhere to, and associate themselves with, carnal, loose, and wanton men. The reverse of Psalm 1.1.
7. Then they give way to carnal and wanton discourses in secret; and glad are they if they can see such things in any that are counted honest, that they may the more boldly do it through their example.
8. After this they begin to play with little sins openly. See Jeremiah 8.12.
9. And then, being hardened, they show themselves as they are. Thus, being launched again into the gulf of misery, unless a miracle of grace prevent it, they everlastingly perish in their own deceivings. See 1 Timothy 4.2.
Pray for a miracle of grace for those who fall away. Better to be the most ignorant pagan alive than to be one who professes Christ, but walks away.