Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 15, 1963

"I Can Not Go Back"

Jesse M. Kelly

"Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon unto mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering." (Judges 11:30, 31) When Jephthah returned from a successful campaign against the children of Ammon, verse 34 says, "his daughter came out to meet him." Verse 35 relates that Jephthah "rent his clothes" in sorrow, but then he said, "I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back" Verse 37 through 40 relates the fulfilling of the vow Jephthah made unto the Lord.

The unshakeable integrity of Jephthah compelled him to pay the price of his promise to his God. Whether God permitted him to actually offer his daughter as a burnt offering is questionable; the text does not so state. But Jephthah's noble resolution to "not go back" on what he had promised God is worthy of emulation by Christians. Every member of the church of Jesus Christ who was genuinely converted when he was baptized "vowed a vow unto the Lord" that he would "not go back" to serve again the worldly elements of sin and unbelief. The obedience which prompted such a vow was not forced; a covenant with God was made voluntarily and honor demands loyalty to the pledge made. No man can see the Lord whose sense of allegiance is such as will permit a fluctuation between loyalty and disloyalty, honor and dishonor, as he settles down into a cold formality of service and worship to God.

This is one of the great weaknesses of the church today. There are multitudes whose names grace church rolls who have gone back on the vow of faithfulness and service to God. Many people need to learn that faithfulness to God consists of a great deal more than simply "going to church" and giving mental assent to things taught and errors opposed. By the standard of a great majority in the churches today, Ephesus was a sound and good church. She had labored; she "could not bear them which are evil"; she tried false teachers and found them liars and rejected them. Moreover, she held fast to the name of Christ, had patience and had not fainted. She hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans. Doctrinally, she was "sound to the core," but she was on the very threshold of having her candlestick removed by the Lord. She had "left her first love' — she had gone back on the vow made to the Lord. "First love" has been defined as the "love of devotion and espousal" to the Lord. The Christians in Ephesus had lost their zeal for service; they were no longer devoted to the Lord. They "went to church on Sunday" but their worship was cold and formal.

It has been our experience that in the average congregation only about fifteen percent of the members give ninety percent of the contribution and do ninety-five percent of all the work that is done. The other eighty-five percent apparently feel no sense of responsibility either to the local church or to the lost in the community and the world. Whether they realize it or not, they have "gone back" on the vow they made to God. The pledge to faithfulness in the cause of Christ was not forced, but when once made it is to be fulfilled. The obligation was assumed to uphold His cause to the world, both by word of mouth and manner of life; to support the gospel and make His church first in life and in purpose To turn back and again embrace worldly elements, or to fail to come up to the full measure of faithfulness and spiritual maturity renders one unfit for the citizenship and blessings of the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, "No man, having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

One of the great needs of the church today, or any day, is men with integrity of conscience and conviction; men who will honor their pledge to both God and man; men who are possessed of stability of character and who are trustworthy in all things; men who pay their debts, and whose word is their bond. Far too many fail or refuse to recognize responsibility unless the obligation has been assumed under legal contract. When the Christian vowed allegiance to God all the responsibilities of citizenship in the kingdom of God were voluntarily assumed. Those responsibilities must be met. If they are not, vows made to God have been broken, and no man shall see God who thus treats lightly his solemn promise to his Creator.

The church of Christ pleads with men to love, honor, and reverence the promises that have been made. It pleads with men to put God's kingdom first; to enthrone His church and His word in their hearts, and unreservedly give it their support. The men whom God delights to honor with His name are faithful to their trust, regardless of its apparent insignificance. The man who prefers anything — father, mother, wife, child, lands, houses, positions — yea, life itself to the church of the living God, is unworthy of God and false to the vow made to Him.

"I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot go back." May this be our resolution. May we in all earnestness pledge anew our faith and trust in Him from whom all blessings flow, and say with Jephthah, "I will not go back."

— Box 72, Newbern, Tennessee