Read CHAPTER XII - THE RETURN FROM CAPTIVITY of The Warfare of the Soul Practical Studies in the Life of Temptation, free online book, by Shirley C. Hughson, on ReadCentral.com.

We may set before ourselves the methods of warfare that lead to spiritual victory; we may study them with all care and prayer; but the weakness of our nature being what it is, we must not expect to go through life without meeting defeat at the hands of the enemy.Even the Saints have not been immune from sin.When St. Paul spoke of sinners, he added, Of whom I am chief." St. John not only said, If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, but he added those terrible words, If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar."

A most necessary part, therefore, of our instruction in the school of the soldier is concerning the course we are to follow when we find we have fallen; how we are to find our way back from the captivity; by what means we are to renew our allegiance to our divine Leader.

We all know that the necessary thing is Repentance, but it is not everyone who understands what repentance is.In its essence repentance is not an emotion; it is not a mere attitude of mind; it is a work, a serious work, and in many instances a hard work.In this chapter we do not purpose using any special method, scholastic or otherwise, of showing what this work is, or how it should be accomplished.In a simple, perhaps informal way, we shall, as the Holy Ghost may guide us, consider some of the aspects of the interior spirit we must cultivate if, after a fall, we would by true repentance come back to our loving Father.

I. Hastening to Repent

It will help us if we recall one of the principles we thought of in the beginning of our study, when we were considering the terms and conditions of the warfare.We learned then that any fall into sin, in the measure of its seriousness, means, “not an idle, passive confinement in some spiritual prison, but an active enlistment in the armies of hell to fight against our Lord Jesus Christ.”

When we think of this, we shall understand that the first consideration must be the speed with which we must hasten to release ourselves from the horrid bondage into which we have fallen.Two reasons for this haste suggest themselves.

(1) First of all, the soul that desires to love will make all speed in order that Gods Name may be relieved of the dishonour that befalls it when one of His family, one called by His name, signed and sealed as His soldier, renounces Him and gives in his allegiance to the Devil.We can brook no delay in such a matter.How keenly sensitive is human honour in like affairs!Let us not think that the divine honour is a duller thing than that indefinable possession men guard as the most sacred of all their moral treasures.

(2) Again, for our own sakes, no time is to be lost in returning to God.Sin is a poison.Every moment the poison remains in the system makes it more difficult to expel.It is absorbed and carried to every part of the body, working wherever it touches with deadly effect.If we should take a poisonous draught by mistake, how instant we should be that we might be rid of it.How much more insistent should we be that the poison whose effects are eternal should not be given time for its deadly work.

It is at this point that Satan’s temptation comes in.“What is the use?” he whispers, “you will sin again.”So does he try to discourage us, and the soul who thinks only of self is apt to stop and listen.Not so with him whose penitence has its root in love; not so with him who feels keenly that his act has dishonoured a loving, tender Father and Friend.He will not brood over his fall, for he knows that every hour of such weak repining is an hour of added sin.He will sweep the temptation aside, and cry with strong resolution, “I will arise and go to my Father!” For he knows that if he waits, the numbing influence of the poison will creep into heart and will, and that after a time he may have neither desire nor power to repent.

We must not leave this subject, however, without finding a reply to Satan’s suggestion, “It is of no use; you will sin again.”Many a soul has been entrapped by it.Many a one, through fear of future failure, has been held back from righting the present wrong.But to yield to such a fear is to commit a special offence against the Holy Ghost.No promise is more constant in Holy Scripture than that if we rise in the strength He will give us, go forward again, and set no special task for ourselves beyond just doing the best we can, He will keep and sustain us.He shall give His angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways;" Fear not, little flock, for it is your Fathers good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid;" I will never leave thee nor forsake thee."

What completer assurance can we ask of the Holy Spirit than these repeated promises that God will fight for us, defend us on every side, and give us the victory? and he who fears to rise and go forward in the face of such assurances, is assuming that the Spirit has spoken falsely, or that God will not keep His word.

II. A Tranquil Sorrow

Our penitence, though prompt and swift, must withal be tranquil.True penitence allows no place for excitability.

(1) Because it grasps the truth that our fall was not a matter for surprise.It was only what we are to expect when, failing to use the grace God constantly offers, we venture upon our own strength.The only wonder and surprise should be that we do not fail a hundred times more frequently.

(2) Because surprise at falling indicates pride.We imagined we were strong.In self-righteousness we prided ourselves on our security, and we found that “security is the suburbs of hell.”But true penitence knows no such pride, and therefore feels no surprise.The broken and contrite heart is, of necessity, the humble heart; it is the heart that thanks God with wondering gratitude for every hour of faithfulness to Him.

(3) Again, true penitence is tranquil because it is sure of acceptance at the Father’s hands.Perturbation in its approach to God would indicate uncertainty of mind as to its reception; and this would mean a lack of trust in His promises.Consider again what the promises are:Turn unto the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness"; “To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against Him; neither have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God;" Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out"; “The Blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin."

Can the heart desiring to return to the allegiance of our God have any qualm of doubt in the face of such promises?If there is true penitence, rather will it return in a confident peace, knowing with a most assured certainty that the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him."

(4) The penitent soul turns to the Father in tranquillity because it knows that, though there has been grievous fall, yet all is not lost.He will give it another chance.In the Father’s house are many mansions, and He is still preparing a place for us.All the treasures of His Kingdom may yet be ours if we come back in true sorrow.We broke our resolution, we wounded Him again in the same old sin, but He has not given us up.Even while we are wondering how we can ever face Him again, He is starting out on His way to the wilderness to seek the sheep that is lost.The stones of the way cut His Sacred Feet; the thorns and briars of sin tear His Hands as He bends down to extricate the entangled soul; but He cares naught for these if only He can fetch home again His banished one.

We are told that “The Saints are the sinners who kept on trying.”They reign in glory to-day not because they were pure from sin, but because when sin entered in they did not forget the Father’s tender love, but came back, calm and sure, to the peace of His pardoning embrace.

III. A Spirit of Reparation

A heart that loves, and that has offended the object of its love, naturally longs for opportunity to make reparation.If our return to the divine allegiance after a fall is in the smallest measure sincere, we shall not have to spur ourselves on to a desire for reparation.It will spring up unbidden, strong and dominant.The heart will be restless and disquieted until opportunity be found.

This desire is not a supernatural gift only.It belongs even to the natural heart of man.We see it showing itself in little children.Mark the child who has offended a loving mother, who has wept out its heart-broken confession on her bosom, and been forgiven and soothed, and sent away restored to the mother’s favour.How quick is that little one all day long to watch for and grasp opportunities of responding to her slightest wish.The little heart instinctively longs to make good the wrong of its disobedience.So with the heart that, having sinned against God, has repented.This is one of the best tests of true and godly repentance.If we long to repair the wrong, if we are quick to seize opportunities to honour Him whom our sin had dishonoured, there can be no question that we have sorrowed after a godly sort.

How does God meet this spirit on the part of the penitent?

Here enters the divine Love and says, “My child, you have indeed dishonoured Me in your sin, and wounded and crucified Me afresh.Your love demands an opportunity for reparation and my answering love will give it you.Go forth to this renewed battle; show that you can be a good soldier of the Cross.Fight valiantly that you may win even greater glory for My Name than that which was lost by your failure.”

What more can the generous heart ask of God?Suppose when we came to Him in deep sorrow for our fault, He should say to us, “I will pardon you, but never will I give you the opportunity of serving me again.I trusted you once and you failed me.I will not trust you again.”

Would our hearts desire heaven on such a condition?I think there is not one of us who would not feel that to stand in His presence among the redeemed on such terms would be the veriest hell.But the love of God deals not thus with sinners.“Though you have failed Me,” He says, “I will trust you again.Go forth once more.My grace will make you strong; My love will hedge you round about.”

IV. The Work of Amendment

The true test of penitence is amendment of life, but God does not require actual amendment before receiving us back into His service.What He demands is that we have a firm purpose of amendment.No man can say what he will do in the future.The future belongs to God.It may never be ours at all.It is ours at the present moment to make a resolution of amendment, and then to trust in God to fulfil in us this resolve.

From the nature of things we can never arrive at any mathematical demonstration of having amended.On the contrary, it is the invariable experience of those who are striving most earnestly in God’s service, that the more they strive the less they think they are accomplishing.

St. Paul did not think when he was persecuting the Church that he was the chief of sinners.But when he had seen the Lord in the way, after he had been rapt to the third heaven, after he had suffered hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness, stripes and imprisonment, for His Name’s sake, after he had given up everything that the world counted dear, after men saw he had attained to such sanctity that his name was one of power in all the Churches, then came to him the deep sense that he had accomplished nothing.He thought of himself as the chief of sinners, and counted that he had laid hold of nothing for God; that he must forget the things that were behind and reach forth unto the things that were before if he was to attain the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.Men trembled at his words of burning rebuke, while he trembled lest having preached to others he himself should be a castaway.

The experience of the great Apostle is shared by every soul who loves God, and the reason is plain.

The nearer we approach to our Lord, the more vivid is the contrast between our sin-stained souls and His perfect life.In the illumination of His near presence every fault stands out in awful prominence, and though there may not be a tenth of the sin that once filled our lives, our consciousness of it is a hundred-fold increased.

This must be the case if we are vigilant; and Satan finds in this condition much occasion for temptation.Let us illustrate.A certain man has all his life been a slave to the sin of anger.Every day he has been guilty of it.It becomes so common a thing in his life that he sins habitually, forgetting it five minutes afterward.He kept no account with himself.Had he been questioned about it, he could have given no idea of the frequency of the sin.This man is converted.He now fights hard, and maintains a careful watch over himself.Where sin formerly came and went without attracting notice, now every approach of it is keenly felt.At the end of the day he can recall distinctly a half-dozen falls, and he is tempted to think the case is hopeless.But last week there was a score of falls, though he scarcely remembered two of them at the end of the day.Now he remembers thrice that number with terrible vividness.But the increase of consciousness of sin is not the increase of sin. He is amending his life, though quite the contrary seems the case.

These considerations show us how untrue, of necessity, must be all our estimates of our progress in amendment.We have no outside point of view from the vantage-ground of which we can form a right judgment.

Therefore God says to the sinner, “Make your resolution in honesty of purpose; commit it to Me; do the best you can; above all things never violate your own conscience; and under no circumstances try to estimate your progress.If you should see that you had advanced, pride and presumption would arise to imperil you; if you could see no progress, the temptation to despair might unnerve you.Commit your ways unto Me; that will bring a man peace at the last.”

V. The Gainsaying of Satan

We have said that the true test of penitence is amendment of life.We can hardly read this sentence without being conscious of temptation, for it is here that Satan brings in one of his most subtle suggestions.We can hear him taunting the soul:“Is this all you have to depend on for your hope of salvation?Have you ever really amended your life?”

And then with that mysterious power that God has given him for the trial of the Saints, and which he uses so pitilessly, he flashes upon the mirror of the mind old sins, sins of long ago, of which we repented in bitterness and tears, it may be; but which we took again to our hearts time after time.We made our Confession, we said to God in the presence of His priest (for he could not have absolved us without this), “I firmly purpose amendment.”Then we went away and sinned again and yet again.After a time we came back to Confession.The same acknowledgment, the same promise, and then the same old sin again.

Thus has life gone on, year after year, and yet we dare to look to God to take us back to our old allegiance.Satan tells us all this; and it loses nothing in the telling.It is very terrible, and the soul shrinks back appalled.

Then swift as thought the voice of the tempter comes again:“What is the use?You will sin again; why not give it all up?” Many a soul has followed his counsel to its eternal loss.It sounded plausible.It seemed to fit exactly into our own experience; and yet it was a lie.

It was a lie because in all that he said the tempter was deceiving us as to the true meaning of amendment.Satan’s knowledge of what perfection is, is a very strange and wonderful thing. An angel from heaven could not set up a higher standard than he is able to do when he is seeking to discourage a struggling soul. Amendment does not mean perfection of life; it does not mean never committing some particular sin again.This was not what we resolved; it was not what we told God we purposed doing.What amendment does mean is, to change for the better." This is to be the spirit and resolution with which we return from the captivity of sin.It is all God asks.

But the tempter is not yet vanquished.Quick comes the whisper in the soul, “Have you done even this?Has there been a change in your life for the better?Have you any assurance that your life is in the smallest degree better than it was a year ago?”

Staggering questions these, to the soul that is ignorant; but the soul that is wise, the soul that is really under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has its answer ready.

“I do not know whether I have done this or not.I know not if my life is changed for the better, or if I am living more as Christ would have me live than I did a year ago.Moreover, I am not concerned to give you, God’s enemy and mine, any answer to these questions.I have no account to render to you.But one thing I know; when I sin I can come back to Him.I kneel at His feet, I put my hands in His, I look up into those eyes brimming with love, and I say, ’Dear Lord, here is my poor heart all full of sin again; I lay it at Thy feet.Wash it in Thy Precious Blood, and make me strong to serve Thee better.I am sorry and I purpose to amend, but I am weak.Be Thou my strength; fight Thou against them that fight against me, and let me be the victor in the end.’I speak thus to Him, and leave it all with Him.I sin again, and again I come and kneel at His feet; and though I have to come daily to Him with the same burden, His embrace is never less tender, His words not less sweet, His eyes are ever full of the same old love.

“Am I amending my life?I know not, He knows.Is my soul a saintlier thing than it was a year ago?I know not, He knows.All I know is that I love Him, and I want to love Him more; and that when I think on Him my heart is at peace.”