By Tom M. Roberts
While walking across a field out in the country near Purcell, Oklahoma, with one of the elders of the church while in a meeting in that city, I noticed the terrible effects that erosion of the soil was causing to some pasture land. Across the middle of a large pasture, long gullies and deep cuts were found where the grass was totally gone and the bright, red clay so prevalent north of the beautiful Arbuckle Mountain range glared back at us where the cows had once grazed. And, it was evident, the erosion was not finished. Nothing was being done by the owner of the land to retard the progress of the spreading red gullies and lost topsoil. Native grasses cannot grow in the hard clay banks of gullies, so the wind and rain continue their relentless assaults on the pasture and the value continues to dwindle.
I could not help but compare the loss of that valuable land through erosion to some dear friends and brothers in Christ (as well as churches) who, through spiritual erosion, are losing their faith., In one case the vicissitudes of nature are at work on unprotected soil; on the other, the troubles and problems of life are eating away at the soul.
Eroded land can be easily seen. The sharp contrast between the green grass, the flowers of the field and the deep ocher of the gullies can scarcely go unnoticed, even from afar. But erosion of faith is more subtle and, while the Bible describes faith erosion in great detail, many fail to see it because it is visible only to the spiritual eye, not to the physical. We are not saying that spiritual erosion cannot be seen. It is, simply, that people don’t watch out for it like they do gullies in the land. But while lost topsoil contributes to a loss of retail value in land, the loss of faith often does irreparable harm to the soul.
Causes of Erosion
You know, it doesn’t take a nuclear blast to start erosion. Alone cow, walking regularly to water, often leaves a trail where the water begins to follow. Harsh winds blow the dust from the tracks. The gentle rains start a trickle and the driving storms increase the flow. Little by little, day after day, the cycles of nature add a cumulative effect that starts the soil to wash. Because the process is so slow and insignificant, one does not notice what is going on until, one day, if the farmer is fortunate, he takes inventory of the land and realizes what is taking place. With little effort, in the early stages, soil erosion can be stopped. Later, it may take a large government grant and a soil conservation expert to arrive at a solution. But erosion starts so imperceptibly that its after-effects are out of all proportion. (Did the Grand Canyon begin with a deer track leading to water?) Daily familiarity discourages objectivity and many do not see the problem until it is too late.
Isn’t the spiritual application all too obvious? Isn’t this often the course of a fall from grace? Folks, it doesn’t take a bombshell. to destroy faith if faith is left unattended and unguarded. Faith is not an absolute in our life that once attained will never change or diminish. It must constantly be attended, nourished, strengthened .and “added to” (2 Pet. 1:5, “add to your faith, virtue . . .”). We increase our faith by regularly reading God’s word (Rom. 10:17) and meditating on it (Psalms I) so that the roots of our faith reach to the Living Water and are sustained. Without this constant tending and increasing of faith, the vicissitudes of life will eat away at our foundations until faith is gone and we know not when it happened. Such has been the case on many sad occasions when Christians leave the Lord and fall back into the world. What has happened? Their faith has eroded. When did it happen? Who can tell? It did not happen at one dramatic moment, like the clap of thunder. Such occurring can not be marked on a calendar as not being a reality one day and an actuality the next. But erosion of faith is no less true because it is not easily observed. It may have started simply in the failure to read the Bible, the failure to worship, the failure to be with the saints in fellowship, or the failure to pray. By the time one “quits the church” the damage has been done. In fact, it seems that many Christians continue to “attend church” long after faith is gone. Hardly a preacher or elder will disagree with that! Many folks in the pew are there in body only, their faith being long gone.
“For who bath despised the day of the small things’? (Zech. 4:10). “Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth” (James 3:4). Though our faith be great, we must not allow the little grinding effects of life to wear away at it without replenishing from its source. It has been said that the Chinese invented a form of torture whereby a man is driven mad by a drop of water falling upon his forehead hour upon hour, without stop. While we might like to think that if, put to the test of “deny Christ and live,” we would accept death rather than deny our Lord, few will ever face such a test. What all of us face is the daily wear arid grind of worldly pressures, temptations to do evil, disappointments and discouragements. The bills get out of hand and we grow weary. The children give us problems and it never seems to stop. The church has problems and brethren treat us unreasonably. We have sickness and our loved ones die. From all sides and on every day, the incessant drip . . . drip . . . drip of problems eats away at our faith. Which is the last straw that breaks the camel’s back or the drop of water that finally starts the flood that sweeps away our faith? No one can tell, but a lack of perception does not deny the tragedy of a fall from God’s grace.
What To Do About It?
Once a brother or sister quits the Lord, it is all too obvious what has taken place. Then, after damage too extensive to be corrected has taken place, a family member or a fellow saint tries in vain to get the fallen to “come back to church,” as though that is the problem. But lack of faith is the problem; the other is but a symptom. And, while it is true that each one of us has the ultimate responsibility to see to our own needs (for we shall have to give answer for our own soul), it is also true that it is easier to build faith from even a glowing ember than to ignite a dead coal. We need help before we lose faith; we should help others before faith dies. It is easier to stop erosion than to rebuild a damaged field. But how, how do we keep faith from eroding?
Friend, there can be no short-cut to the first step; no substitution or viable alternative. The first thing to realize is that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). We have read that so much and yet we don’t believe it. Yet God’s word is the foundation for true faith and nothing else will do. All the positive attitude books in the world will not help in the absence of the Book. Mental health tapes are valueless if the word of God is allowed to gather dust on a shelf. Read your Bibles!
Further, turn off the world on different occasions and worship God. Worship does not just do God “good,” or glorify Him. He will be no less God if none of us worship Him. We need to worship God for the good it does us. Worship restores our soul. It builds our faith. It strengthens our spirits. Find time to worship.
Associate with other saints. True, “we must needs go out of the world” (1 Cor. 5:10) to avoid contacts with worldly people. But we must learn to choose friends who can help us be faithful and not contribute to a loss of faith. Visit and be close to other Christians.
Do good deeds for others. It is not without reason that Jesus predicated greatness in His kingdom upon service. Show me the Christian who thinks and works for the good of others and I will show you a person full of faith. Selfishness and laziness will destroy faith. Visit the sick, the widows, the fatherless. Do good to others. Be busy for the Lord. Pass out tracts in your neighborhood (have you ever done this?). Visit and talk with a weak brother or sister who needs a friend. Read good material that discusses the Bible. Teach a class. Have a Bible study in your home (have you ever done this?). These, and countless other things, contribute to a constant repair before erosion of the soil, even so must the Christian stay busy in such things to avoid erosion of the soul.
Take a walk through the pastures of your faith. Is the Lord your shepherd? Do you lie down in green pastures and walk beside the still waters? Is the Lord restoring your soul (Psalms 23)? Or do you find there the rivulets of erosion that can become the raging torrent that will sweep away your faith. Let us learn ever to watch and do these things that build us up in the most holy faith.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 13, pp. 385, 406-407
July 7, 1983