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The Impossibility Of Retreat

The Impossibility Of Retreat poster

“I have opened my mouth unto the Lord and I cannot go back.”—Judges 11:35

The story of Jephthah is no doubt familiar to many of you. He began life as an illegitimate child, born in sin, and later was turned out of the home by his half-brothers who refused to have anything to do with him because they did not want him to share in their inheritance. Yet, as in the case of Moses, Joseph and David, this man, cast out and rejected by others, was accepted, used, and blessed by God.

Jephthah gathered round him a group of men in similar circumstances, became their leader and was renowned as a mighty man of valour. He was not to blame for his unfortunate start in life, and God did not allow the sin, for which Jephthah was not responsible, to hinder his future usefulness. The Christian church today would do well to mark that, and follow the example of charity instead of condemning for life a brother whose early years have been marked by breakdown for which he was not responsible.

There came a time when God’s people were in trouble and they knew who would be the one to lead them out of it, and it was Jephthah upon whom they called to be their deliverer (Judges 11:6).

Jephthah expressed his willingness on one condition (verse 9): If I deliver you, will you make me your leader? A question incidentally with which Christ faces every one of us from the day of our first meeting with Him, “If I save you, are you willing for me to be your Sovereign? If I deliver you from sin, shall I make you holy? If I come to you, will you abandon yourself utterly to me?”

Jephthah’s leadership was accepted. He turned to God in simple faith and dependence on Him for strength (v. 11), he uttered all his words before the Lord. He received the anointing of the Spirit for his warfare (v. 29), gave himself up to the Lord with a solemn vow, and won a notable victory.

All of this is an allegory. It traces the history of every true believer. Born in sin, restored and accepted by the Lord, anointed by the Spirit, and committed to Christ. From such a position, retreat is not only unthinkable but impossible. “I have opened my mouth unto the Lord and I cannot go back.”

It is with that principle I am concerned today. The fact that Jephthah’s vow may have been rash, and therefore would have been better broken than kept, is secondary. You remember how he promised the Lord that whatever came out of his house to meet him on return from battle, he would offer in sacrifice to God, and the first to come was his own daughter. There was good reason for withdrawal from a vow like that. If a man makes a vow to commit a sin, the carrying out of it is doubly sinful. If by vowing to do something, it became necessary to do it without regard to right or wrong, that would destroy every principle of morality.

You have no right to promise to do what is wrong, and if you do, you must not commit the greater sin of doing it, in order to avoid the lesser one of breaking your word. It would have been well if Jephthah, even though opening his mouth before God, had gone back on his vow when it involved the slaying of his innocent child. No matter how you may try to dramatize or disguise his action, it was dreadful. He had no right to make the promise, and far less to carry it out.

But that is not the issue before us today. I want to speak to you about other openings of our mouth before the Lord which can never be regretted, and should never be recalled and from which retreat is impossible.

Perhaps some of you have never opened your mouth before the Lord at all. You have made no commitment, no promise, and you remain negligent of His claims. What I have to say has little to do with you. The fact that you have made no commitment to Him does not free you from obligation. “You are not your own, you are bought with a price.” To say that you profess nothing only means that you are not with God, but against Him, robbing God of His right to your life and living in rebellion against the King of kings, which will result in a solemn reckoning one day.

But I am concerned with my own position in this text, and my own commitment to Christ and yours. How clear is it? How thorough is it? How uncompromising is it? How glad is it? Is it of such a character that avenues of retreat have been left wide open or are they all blocked forever

I. What Have We Done

“I have opened my mouth unto the Lord.” How? Let me remind you of some of the ways in which we have done that.

(a) You have confessed faith in Christ. You have declared that your hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness, and you have made it known that you are His and cast in your lot with His people.

“O happy day that fixed my choice
On Thee, my Saviour, and my God.
Well may this glowing heart rejoice
And tell it’s raptures all abroad.”

(b) You have declared yourself His disciple. That He is your Master and Lord, and have resolved to live for Him always.

“High heaven that heard the solemn vow,
That vow renewed shall daily hear
Till in life’s latest hour,
I bow and bless in death, a vow so dear.”

Yes, we are His and gladly do we own Him and His right to all there is of us. When have we made such a commitment? We have done it in private. There is some sacred spot when that transaction took place. We have done it in public, in the waters of baptism, at the Lord’s table, in song, in prayer, in testimony.

In all these ways there has been a solemn, sacred committal to Christ. And we did all this without compulsion from anyone. It was voluntary and deliberate. We counted the cost, and never reckoned on a smooth path, knew there would be battles, giants to fight, hills to climb, rivers to cross on the journey to the Celestial City. We did it before the Lord, and that is what makes our commitment so solemn; not what we promised others, or the church, but what we have said to Him. If we must trifle, it can never be with God.

We have opened our mouth to the Lord in total commitment.

II. What We Cannot Do

“I cannot go back.” Instinctively we know that is true. Do not let anyone tell me they are never tempted to do so! Do you not know the pull of worldly things, the down-drag of the flesh, the persuasion of others, the weariness of the warfare, the loneliness of the path, the whispering of Satan, “It is not worth the candle.” But somehow, as though you were a thunderbolt launched from God’s omnipotent hand, you must go on, and burst through every opposition till you reach the goal. For He that is in you is greater than all that come against you. The spirit lusteth against the flesh, and the flesh against the spirit, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. “I cannot go back.” Why?

(a) To retreat would be to deny every profession we have ever made. To claim to have received a new principle of life and then to go back would be to declare you were never His. The Cross has never been on our heart and never truly HIS. You cannot say that, for amidst many doubtings, you know you love Jesus. And somehow that fact binds the sacrifice with cords to the altar.

You have committed yourself to pursuit of holiness and you cannot go back to the pleasures of sin. To do so would only demonstrate you were never truly saved, and like those in Hebrews 6, though you tasted of the heavenly gift and the powers of the world to come, none of these things accompanied salvation. If such fall away it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance—the awful judgment of the apostate.

(b) To retreat would be utterly unreasonable. What alternative is there? Do you seek pleasures? What pleasure is there compared with what He can give? Do you seek gain? What gain could there be if you lost Him? Do you seek ease? To leave Him is to forfeit the only true rest.

As the disciples said, so we would say, “Lord to whom shall we go: thou hast the word of eternal life?” As a child of God, you are spoiled for the world. While a sow is a sow, the mud is good enough. Turn it into an angel, and heaven is the only home. If you can go back to the world, you will, but if you are a child of God, you just cannot. You could not exist in that element again.

When I enlisted in Christ’s army 25 years ago, I enlisted for life. If He were to say, “You have had 25 years, you can take it easy and be discharged,” I would have to say, “Lord, where could I go?” If He put me out the front door, I would come in again at the back. If He discharged me today, I would have to enlist again tomorrow. Go? He fastened me to His cross. I am buried with Him, one with Him in His risen life. That union can never be broke: “Who shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord?” How unreasonable to think of retreat.

(c) To retreat would be impossible, because the grace of God impels us on. When temptation comes to retreat, to compromise, to lower standards, mighty grace drowns the desire in tears of repentance, and makes us loathe ourselves. A sight of Jesus with His face to the devil, His face to the wrath of God, makes us know we cannot go back. The mightiest tug at our hearts is the tug of His grace. We cannot go back.

III. What We Must Do

“I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot go back.” If there is a present sacrifice He is asking of us, we must make it, and make it now. Do not parley with anybody. Do not confer with others. You will probably only misrepresent the facts to them so that they can give an answer in your favour! Do not take time for second thoughts. Confer not with flesh and blood. Make the sacrifice and do it now. Do not stand back because of your weakness, but lay hold of His strength. For if He calls for sacrifice He will surely give grace.

What must I do? I must burn my boats behind me and make a total commitment to Christ, and block every road except that which leads on in the will of God. Let the separation between you and sin be final and irretrievable. Say to the Lord, “Here I commit myself to you, your Cross, your Word, your will, your law. Here I go in for holiness, for truth, for trust in Christ—NEVER by your grace to go back.” To take that path is to take the costly road, but nothing is so costly as retreat, and at the end of the road, the Master will say, “Well done.” To enjoy His smile, share His crown, and His glory is worth 10,000 times the price involved.

So whatever lies before you, if He is calling, go forward. He will bear you through any Red Sea or rage of Earth or hell, to a glorious victory. “I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.”

The one question is, Am I, or am I not my own? Am I bought with a price or no? I have made a covenant with the Lord, put my hand to the plough. My times are in His hands. The cup He has given, shall I not drink it? Like Jephthah—all I have is thine!