The Decay of Religion Leading to Prayer
William Nicholson, 1862
"Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men!" Psalm 12:1
Those who love God, love his cause. When that cause prospers, they rejoice; when it declines, they mourn. When clouds and darkness are round about the Church, it is time to pray. So did David, and so will all true Christians. Circumstances sometimes cause the Church of God to regress, over which no human being can have control. Vain is the help of man. "O Lord, revive your work!" "Help, Lord," etc.
I. The Affecting Statement. "Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men!"
As it was in the days of David, so it is now. The hearts of God's people are often deeply affected by witnessing spiritual declensions, and the decrease of God's people.
I. The character here specified. Though two characteristics are mentioned — yet both apply to a holy man. He is both godly and faithful.
(1.) A Christian man is godly. None are so by nature, but all are ungodly. It therefore supposes a change, even regeneration — a new creature — born again — passed from death to life. Having believed in Christ, he is accepted in the Beloved, and accounted as a child of God. He bears Christ's image — he resembles him in his moral perfections, being created of God in righteousness and true holiness. He prays, he labors to be more like him. He hates sin, and follows after holiness. He worships God, and glorifies him. See Titus 2:12; 2 Corinthians 1:12; Hebrews 12:28. To be godly, is to be a Christian.
(2.) A Christian man is faithful. This term implies truth, sincerity, and fidelity. Christ is called the "faithful Witness," Revelation 1:5; and also the "faithful and true Witness," Revelation 3:14. When the term is applied to men, it implies that they are believers in Christ, Colossians 1:2; 4:9; 1 Peter 5:12. Sometimes the word faithful is equivalent to the word true, as in 2 Timothy 2:2; and then it imports that the fidelity of the people referred to has been proved, 1 Timothy 3:10; Revelation 2:13; Acts 16:15. It means a Christian, in opposition to an infidel, 2 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 4:17.
A Christian man is faithful in all his commercial transactions.
He is faithful to his profession, adhering to the principles of the Gospel, and laboring, through grace, to be faithful to death.
A Christian man is faithful to his trusts; he has duties to perform, offices to fill, talents to employ. Authority is a trust from God; riches are a trust from God; time is a trust from God.
A Christian man is faithful to his promises.
A Christian man is faithful in his friendship.
Such a character is strikingly portrayed in Psalm 15, "LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart!" Such men are the salt of the earth — the seed of the kingdom.
2. The defection or scarcity of this character, "the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men!"
The whole Psalm, and other Scriptures, confirmed by observation, intimate that the Redeemer's flock is only a little flock — that in this world . . .
the goats are more numerous than the sheep,
the chaff are more abundant than the real grain,
the dross exceeds in quantity the pure gold.
Happy are they who are a part of God's peculiar people, his royal priesthood, his holy nation, his chosen generation!
The language of the text implies that the Christian profession is to possess distinct prominence, which will require much of the operation of God's grace and Spirit to cause the light to shine. Many shrink from this.
(1) That godly and faithful men cease and fail by reason of death. "The fathers, where are they, and the prophets, do they live forever?" The visitations of death are frequently mysterious. Often . . .
the most brilliant in genius,
the most lofty in talent,
the most pious in heart and life, and
the most useful in the Church and the world —
are cut down, while mere cumberers of the ground are spared. How affecting the death of a godly minister in the meridian of life and usefulness — or the death of an influential Christian — or the death of a pious parent! etc. etc. Then is the time to pray, "Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men!"
(2.) The profession of some is only transient; they soon cease and fail. Some improper motive, some peculiar excitement, may have impelled them they have thrown off their outward sins — but their hearts have been unchanged — they have entered the Church, and excited the hopes of God's people in reference to them. But "Their love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears." Hosea 6:4. They are like the stony-ground hearers, or the seed that fell among thorns, Matthew 13:5-7.
The world allures thousands, and kills the vitality of their religion. Judas, an Apostle, betrayed his Master, from the love of filthy lucre. Demas, an acceptable preacher and companion of Paul, abandoned his profession, having loved the present world. "Wail, O pine tree, for the cedar has fallen; the stately trees are ruined!" Zechariah 11:2. "Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men!"
(3.) Some cease or fail by the exposure of their real characters, being at first only sham disciples. These unite with God's people, perhaps to promote their secular interest, or to gain the favor of some creature, or to gratify some motive of ambition. When they are gratified — when their excitement is expended, they have nothing more to look for — they tire — they cease — they fail. Like Simon Magus, they are detected. Of such characters, John speaks, "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us." 1 John 2:19. "Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men!"
(4.) The profession of some is ineffective. It is merely an external profession, and not an internal possession. They are trees without fruit — wells without water. They talk much — they pretend much — they are very fastidious — and very censorious. But in the vineyard of Christ, they cease, they fail; they pray not, they work not, they give not. They have the form of godliness, but where is the power? They are but withered branches — and well may the Church say, "Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men!"
(5.) Some fail by endeavoring to unite the world and religion; maintaining a good moral character, but are destitute of Christian experience. But this will not do. "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him!" 1 John 2:15
When this worldly spirit creeps into the Church — when its arrangements are secularized — when men, on account of their wealth and worldly influence, are made prominent there, and respected more than the pious poor in the Church — then may the prayer be uttered, "Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men!"
(6.) Some cease and fail from the Church by falling into temptation of various kinds, and disgrace their profession. They fall through intemperance, immorality, covetousness, etc. etc. "Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men!"
(7.) Some cease and fail through the influence of error, and the enemies of Christianity. These frequently attempt to beguile the unwary.
Never was there a time like the present, when Atheism and Infidelity appeared so determined, if possible, to annihilate the Christian religion! Behold their attempts. In schools and books, there is an incessant attempt to instill into the minds of the young, principles inimical to Christianity, as well as to draw professors from their steadfastness. Some have already split upon the rocks of Atheism — some have stranded on the quicksands of Infidelity. "Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men!"
Some who have swerved from the truth have become the most zealous abettors of error, and the most bitter opponents of evangelical religion. The knowledge they acquired under Christianity they have turned to a wicked purpose.
II. The Conduct of the Psalmist in Consequence.He prayed, "Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men!"
1. He was deeply affected with this state of things, and so should every Christian be.
2. He felt his own weakness, and inefficiency to remedy it. So should every Christian now.
3. He acknowledged God as the only helper. He looked off from human means, to the right source, the eternal God as his refuge. God can and will help those who go to him for help:
(1.) By comforting their minds by his Holy Spirit, and the application of his promises to their souls.
(2.) By establishing their minds in the principles of the Gospel, so that they shall be steadfast, immovable, etc.
(3.) By crowning their efforts with success — blessing the preaching of his word, etc. etc. etc.
Thus he can make up the breaches and the defection, which death, and the world, and Satan, have made.
(4.) The Psalmist prayed fervently, and so let the Church now. God's work must prosper — his cause must spread. Death cannot entomb the Bible — infidelity cannot stop the progress of truth — that truth which has lived amidst the racks, and gibbets, and fires of martyrdom, etc. Though the fathers and the prophets die, another race, more numerous and effective, shall serve him. The mantle of Elijah, and a double portion of his spirit, shall fall upon Elisha. Therefore be not faithless, but believing.
1. Am I ceasing or failing in the Lord's work?
2. Let those who have failed be induced to return.
3. Woe to those who have made shipwreck of their faith!