Spiritual Decline and the Judaizing of the Church
We are going, beloved friends, if the Lord enable us, to look at the addresses to the Seven Churches — not indeed in detail, but more especially certain parts of of them — as representative of the state of Christendom as a whole from the time almost when the Lord left the earth until the time in which He comes again. Now, in the first place, it is only right that I should show you briefly what is my warrant for taking these addresses as applying in this way. I can only just indicate the reasons — the main one being the suitability of the application itself.
You find, then, that the Lord here is addressing, through His apostle, seven churches in Asia — a little district in the western part of what we call Asia Minor. But these seven churches are evidently taken up to represent the Church at large. In the first place, they are remarkable as being seven in number. It is a number which, as you know, runs through the book of Revelation. You have not only these seven churches, but seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials, seven spirits of God, and other sevens, which everybody can see at once have a distinct significance as such. It is not a casualty that there are just seven. Now here we find the same number, which some of us will know to be one of the numbers which signify perfection, generally in a good sense, and indeed the perfection of Divine work. God completed everything in creation on the seventh day.
Again, to these seven churches the whole book of this prophecy is committed, evidently for us, and for all time, yet it is put into their hands; and thus they are made representatives of the Church at large.
Furthermore, the Lord presents Himself here in this chapter in the midst of the seven candlesticks. These candlesticks stand for the seven churches, as is said. There was a seven-branched candlestick in the tabernacle, or the temple , — here we have, as it were, the seven branches separated from one another, and standing alone. That seven-branched candlestick was the light of the sanctuary — the light of the priests. It was significant of Christ by the Holy Ghost (through the Word, of course), the light of His people. In this scene in Revelation, His people are looked upon as the "light," not of the sanctuary, but "of the world," and the candlesticks stand each upon its own base, significant of their position of responsibility. But here again it is not merely among seven Asiatic churches that He walks, nor only those who have this position: the seven churches are but representatives of the whole.
Furthermore, the whole book is a "prophecy" — a prophecy which reaches down to the very end of time, and even into eternity itself: a prophecy not of any local significance merely. Such an introduction, as merely concerned itself with a few churches in the apostles' time, whose memory for most would otherwise be entirely passed away, would scarcely be in keeping with this character of the book itself. If they are prophecy, then the whole book evidently is one; and if prophetic of the condition of the Church at large, then how specially important for the servants of the Lord to whom He would show, for their own guidance, things that would shortly come to pass!
Then, furthermore, if you take the chapters themselves which contain these addresses, you find that in every one of them there is the most solemn appeal to "every one that hath an ear to hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." Scarcely any part of Scripture has such constant, solemn injunction to attend to what is written. Surely, if we are to take the divine warning and admonition as applicable to ourselves, we must believe that these chapters have a very peculiar place in God's word, and a very peculiar application to us all. Written and handed down from one generation to another, all that have an ear to hear are exhorted to attend. But, after all, the most satisfactory evidence that these addresses do belong to the Church at all times is this, that we can trace that application in the actual facts of its history, and this it is which it will be my endeavor to set before you in these lectures.
Now, first of all, let us understand what is the character of the book we have before us. We have a distinct title — a thing not usual in the Word; you seldom have a title to any of the books of Scripture. The first two verses here are evidently that, and the title is, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ." He calls it a "revelation." He says distinctly it is an "unveiling," or disclosure, of certain things shortly to come to pass.' Instead of being something which no one can understand, it is what God calls a "revelation."
We need not say that if God gave it to show these things to us, there will be no such obscurity about it as to defeat the object for which it is given. I venture to say, we shall not find it obscure, if we have honest hearts to receive it. You will find in the parable of the sower that it is the honest heart only that "understands." And then, also, it is a revelation to Christ's servants. It is to all, no doubt, but in that character. It is His servants that will have to do with the things. Their path will be in the midst of the things about which He is going to speak, and His servants will need to discern between the things which please or displease Him. But if we are not servants — if we have not that character, no doubt we shall find it hard; that is, if we seek speculative knowledge rather than practical.
To servants there is a distinct encouragement given with regard to hearing and reading the words of this prophecy: "Blessed is he that readeth and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein." If we could not understand them perfectly, I may say, and know without any doubt what these things apply to, how could we be expected to "keep the things written therein"? Because, if the thing is, after all, merely doubtful — what may or may not be so — it has no right in fact over you or me. We ought not to walk in doubtful paths. "Whatever is not of faith is sin"; and faith must have God's word to support and justify it. And therefore I say again, if there was not something that could be distinctly laid hold of, and learned, and understood in its application to what is around us, the things in the midst of which we are living, we could not possibly be expected to keep "the things written therein."
Let us now look at the addresses themselves. In the first place, to the "Church at Ephesus." We have the Lord speaking in words simple enough, but which are as solemn as they are practical for us all today. Amidst much commendation of them, — and the Lord commends all He can, — He has this to say to them: "Thou hast left thy first love." "I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for My name's sake hast labored, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless, I have against thee that thou hast left thy first love" (vers. 2-4),
That is the commencement of decline everywhere — with every one of us; and if this applies to any one of us at this time, let us remember that we are "fallen," and can never be right until restored to that first state.
I want you to notice how much the Lord can commend even where He finds such serious fault. "I know thy works," He says; but not merely works, — "thy labor." That is energetic work. But again, labor in the midst of a scene like this is apt to break down under the disappointment and discouragement incident to it. The Ephesians had not broken down; they had "patience," quiet endurance. They went on laboring in spite of discouragement. Then, again, patience is apt to degenerate into toleration of the evil which we are so constantly meeting. They, however, "could not bear them which were evil." It was commendation of them that they showed no such liberality as people often now would have. Such toleration is inconsistent with the love of truth and good.
Evil, too, was showing itself in high places already. It is remarkable to see that at the very commencement there were those already "saying they were apostles, and who were not." Let us mark that: it will be important to remember it in another connection by and by. We know what that pretension ripened into in later times, and that it still exists. We must not be daunted by it any more than the Ephesians were: "Thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars."
Furthermore, they had borne and suffered, and for Christ's name had labored. There was true love to Christ: there was not the first freshness of it, but there was true love to Christ underlying it all. There was much fruit; but the Lord had this to say: "Nevertheless I have against thee that thou hast left thy first love." There is no "somewhat": that would look as if it were a little thing that the Lord was speaking of, whereas it was as great a thing as could well be. After that, it is solemn to see that even Balaam-teachers were but comparatively a "few things" more. But He never calls this "somewhat." The Lord is jealous of our hearts — of our love, because He loves us; and it is not a little thing for Him to see our love declining — to see the first freshness of it gone.
I want to put it in a very practical way — I want to ask you who, by your coming here tonight, take the position of Christians — of those who have known Christ, — I want to ask you, as I would ask myself, whether you know what "first love" is, and whether you have this "first love" now? There is this characteristic of it — and I have no doubt your memories will justify me here — that first love is an engrossing thing.
You know how any new thing is apt to take possession of one. It has passed into a proverb. But in the case of first love it is pre-eminently characteristic of it that it absorbs the subject of it. If we remember what it was when first of all our eyes were opened to see what Christ was, and to call Him ours, — our Saviour, — to receive what He had done for us, I think we shall confess a common experience; that for a while at least, short or long as it may be, His love possessed us; there was nothing else to contest the place with Him. And if it is otherwise now — if we have got down to a quieter and more moderate estimate of Him, and can find room and time for many an object of which Christ is only one among others — we may think it perhaps wisdom even, rightly surviving the heat of youth, when He is saying to us, "Thou art fallen, thou hast left thy first love." That is what you find, for instance, in the apostle Paul, who, I believe, never relinquished his from first to last. What you find in the Epistle to the Philippians is that his love had that engrossing character. He gave himself up to the object of it; very deliberately too, but entirely and undistractedly. He had "one thing" before him; one idea possessed him. It made him, no doubt, what people would call narrow and one-sided. Nevertheless these are the men — to put it in that way — that make their mark in the world. Few men but get distracted with a number of objects; while, on the other hand, if you find a man bent upon one thing, absorbed with the desire, you will find generally (of course, I cannot say universally in a world like this) that that man in a great measure realizes his desire. What he pursues he pursues earnestly, concentrating his faculties upon his object, and he succeeds. If it is money, he will get money, and so on. For success, in other things at least, I suppose every one will grant there is nothing like entire occupation with one thing. Now it is distinctly this that the Lord claims for Himself. We may easily imagine, as love grows cool, that we are only acquiring wisdom; that we were extreme and enthusiastic; that the natural heat of first days is passed and ought to pass away; that we are only wiser, when in fact we are less spiritual and less devoted, — I surely believe, less happy too. For, oh, there is nothing like the happiness of an absorbing and responsive affection, which eternal and infinite love has awakened towards itself. And I say again, the apostle Paul at least was not one of these prudent ones; and he says distinctly that we are to follow him as he followed Christ!
For him to live was Christ, and Christ sufficed for him. These are what you find together in the Philippians. Take care you keep them together. In the first chapter you have a man for whom to live was Christ; and that man, you find in the last chapter, Christ perfectly sufficed. He had learned, in whatever state he was, to be content; he knew both how to be abased and how to abound; everywhere, and in all things, he was instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and suffer need. He was not elated by prosperity nor cast down by adversity: always, in whatever state, content. How? He reveals the secret: "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me." Now, do not imagine that every Christian can say that. Can any of us say so? It is of no use, of course, to urge what Christ can do. Christ can do everything; but the question is, do we practically so know Christ as to be able to say, "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me"? If not, what is the reason? Failure as to the first principle — "For me to live is Christ."
Fruit may look very beautiful on the outside, and yet, after all, not be ripe for the Master's taste; so here a great deal of fruit there was which looked fair enough, but it had not hung in the sun enough. It was not ripe for the Master's use. Now, we are not in a right state to judge anything — even to discern what evil is — except our hearts are really right with Him. The Lord is giving us here what was the root of all the evil we find afterward. For if our hearts lose their freshness of love to Christ, — that is to say, if Christ has less of our hearts than once He had, — something else will surely come in to fill the gap. If nature, as they say, abhors a vacuum, our hearts surely do; and if Christ is not filling them, the world, in some shape or other, will be brought in to fill the void. It surely will be so. But then, there is no satisfaction there. What is the world? If you take the apostle's own estimate (or rather God's by him), it is this: "All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but of the world." Lust and pride; and that is all! Does lust satisfy? Lust is just unsatisfied desire. Does the pride of life? Alas! the pride of life is but twin brother of envy — another form of lust. And then, "the world passeth away, and the lust thereof." Is not that enough of itself to destroy satisfaction? Now if what I pursue is only lust, the result is, the void becomes greater, and I become, alas, — if the Lord does not come in and stop me, — only more reckless and infatuated in the pursuit. One step of departure leads to another and what about the word of God, and its wholesale judgment of the world and all that belongs to it? Shall I take it truthfully? Shall I wish to apply it in its full force to the very things I am seeking after? The necessary result is that my judgment is warped as to what the world is, and I find it hard to believe that evil is just as evil as God's word would have it. "Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" So the course hastens downward. Save God alone, nothing can stop one in it.
Do not wonder, then, that you have here the root of all the evil that has sprung up in the Church, and do not let us sit down and judge this thing and that thing in what we find around us, while at the same time we have the root of it all unjudged in our own souls. I do press it on you, and on myself alike, that if Christ has not our hearts fully, — if our business, our pleasure, our whole life in fact, is not really, truthfully, honestly devoted to Him (I am not speaking now of realized absolute consistency, we all have to own much inconsistency, but still) if to give Him all is not the purpose of our hearts, there is really no proper fellowship with Him, and of course no power to judge truly what evil is. To have part with Him, He must cleanse, as He said: "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me." But if we put our feet into His blessed hands, we must put them there without reserve. If He washes, it must be according to His thought of what defilement is and if He does not cleanse, we can have no part with Him. He cannot bear fellowship with evil but as a consequence, our fellowship with Him is gone. The least reserve — the least deliberate keeping back from Christ what is rightfully His — these hearts that He toiled so for and has taken so much pains to win — the least conscious keeping back from Him is, so to speak, fatal. The freshness of our souls is gone. I am sure, as we go on with Him, He will show us more and more what this and that is, and that the judging all these things is more or less a practical work. Our eyes clear more and more as we are with Him, and we learn more and more to call things by their names, and see them as they really are. While all that is true, and while there is thus a growth in practical sanctification, yet the surrender that He calls for from us, from the beginning and throughout, is an entire and unreserved surrender.
There is no use in our going on with these addresses except we can honestly say, "Well, at any rate, my heart's desire is to give Christ all." It is no use trying to go further else. You cannot learn God's truth as a schoolboy learns his lesson. It is not merely for the head; it is for the heart. The eyes to see it are of the heart, and not the head; and I put it to your heart as to where you are. It is solemn to think of its being Ephesus that is thus addressed. Had it been Corinth or Galatia, we should have said, the evil began with them from the beginning almost. But this is Ephesus, the very first, as one might say, of apostolic churches, and the one to whom especially had been committed the deposit of Church-truth. Failure here leaves us to ask, And where not, if at Ephesus? And in truth, if we only look at the epistles to the various churches, we shall have no difficulty in seeing that long before apostolic days were over, the fresh, bright days of the primitive Church were gone. The warnings and reproofs of the early epistles change to solemn and emphatic statements in the latter. At Rome all sought their own, not the things of Jesus Christ. "All they that are in Asia have departed from me," says the apostle to Timothy. The mystery of iniquity was already working. In John's days already there were many antichrists who had gone out from them; and, inside still, such as Diotrephes resisting openly the yet living apostle, and casting true brethren out of the Church.
The prophetic warnings carry this on to the very "last days" of Christendom. Evil men and seducers should wax worse and worse. False teachers should bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and many follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom the way of truth would be evil spoken of. The "last days" would be specially "perilous times" — men having the form of godliness and denying the power thereof. And the man of sin, the heading up of evil already at work, would crown the final apostasy, and receive judgment from the Lord's own hand at His appearing.
We are prepared, then, to find the aspect of things getting darker as we proceed with these addresses. Even (in spite of corrective measures, which the Lord's faithful) love could not but provide, if even yet they might be roused up to a sense of their condition, and return, truly and effectually, to Himself.
This discipline it is we find accordingly taking effect in the next epistle to the church in Smyrna, — the persecution which everybody knows broke out in the days of the heathen emperors. The "tribulation ten days" has been referred to thus by those who had no thought of any application of these addresses to the state of the Church at large. The justification of it by the history is undoubted in this case. But here you find that the Lord comes in, in the most gracious and tender way, though not to take them out of it, because He had His own purpose in their going through it. He wanted them to learn from the world how thoroughly in opposition to God it was. He would force them, as it were, by the great outward pressure, back to Himself, that there they might learn, as there only they could, the true character of that which was creeping in; and therefore He lets them go through it, bidding them only be "faithful unto death." He had been so; had "resisted unto blood, striving against sin." He had gone through it, and taken away its sting. He gives them the assurance of His sympathy. By and by He would give them the crown of life.
Individually, multitudes were thus faithful. Nevertheless we must not imagine that in general the state of things improved. On the contrary, I want you to notice that there is a class of people spoken of here who are very distinctly brought into notice, and whom the Lord as thoroughly reprobates. If we have skill in reading the symbolic language which is everywhere here employed, we shall have no difficulty in regard to who they are, or to their place at this time in ecclesiastical history. The class of people which He refers to are depicted in these vivid words: "I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich,) and the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the Synagogue of Satan."
He does not speak of these, then, as the people He is addressing; but do not let us imagine that on that account they were outside, and not in fact an existing party in the Church. It is in accord with the character of these epistles that the Lord does not address these. It is just the same with the Nicolaitans, the followers of Balaam, and the woman Jezebel, who must be all admitted to have been inside the professing Church. But He could not reckon those who were tools of Satan as among those who had an ear to hear. That they called themselves Jews too does not imply that they did not profess to be Christians also, for in fact they might be confounding Judaism and Christianity together; and this we know took place almost from the beginning, and the apostle Paul had everywhere to resist it. But these are not Jews, although they say they are. Had they been such, they would scarcely have needed to profess it so. Now Satan is the great adversary of Christ, the one continually seeking to destroy His work, as Christ, on the other hand, comes to destroy the works of the devil. This was the synagogue of Satan, a Jewish party, the tool of Satan in his effort to destroy Christ's work. They were not Jews really at all, but people taking Jewish ground, the ground of the synagogue, and blaspheming (or slandering) the true followers of Christ. It is slander, not persecution, such as from the world outside, that they are charged with; and the name by which the Lord calls them may instruct us sufficiently as to their real character. The "synagogue" is the Jewish word for their gathering, as the Christian word everywhere used is "assembly." The word "church," we need scarcely say, is a word that really has no existence anywhere in the word of God: it is the product of later times. This is well known, and there is nothing peculiar in saying so. Everyone who is acquainted with the original will allow it. At the same time it is of the greatest importance to keep this clearly in mind. If I speak of the "assembly," of course it could not possibly be confounded with walls, with bricks and mortar; yet that is one notorious abuse of the word "church."
Then, again, if I speak of the Christian assembly as it is in Scripture, i.e., the "assembly which is Christ's body," I cannot think of anything else than the gathering of all His members. Church membership is nothing else or other than membership of the body of Christ, and there cannot be many bodies of Christ, but only one, and that containing all true Christians. How, then, can we speak of the Church teaching, or anything of that sort? What is this Church that teaches? The Church is the whole company of teachers and taught alike. What they call church-teaching is only the teaching of certain teachers in past generations, accepted more or less widely in after times. But that is not the Church at all. The restoration (were it possible) of the true word "assembly" would destroy many of these fancies at the very outset.
Now, let us mark, there is a difference between the Jewish and the Christian words. The word for the New Testament assembly, "ecclesia," is derived from two words meaning "called out." It is not merely a gathering; it is a gathering of people who are distinctly "called out" from others. On the other hand, "synagogue" is a mere "gathering together." It is no gathering out; and this very precisely distinguishes the Jewish from the Christian gathering.
Now in order to see what that means, let us look briefly at what Judaism was. It was a probationary system, in which God was trying man, to see if He could get anything out of him that He could accept — trying man, to see if, by any assistance He could give him, he could by any possibility make out a righteousness for himself, and stand before Him on the basis of his own doings. In Judaism God gave man the law as the measure of obedience which He required, in order that he might see His face and live. But he never did see God's face, and never could see it, on those terms. The moment you see what the law is, you cannot have any doubt that it must effectually exclude man from God's presence forever. Everybody at once will say: "If I have got to love God with all my heart and mind and strength, and my neighbor as myself, I have not done it, do not do it, and can not do it." Now, if these are the terms upon which man, is to stand before God by his own work, then it is absolutely impossible for a man to come into His presence in that way. He is certainly excluded; and that is exactly what the law was given for. Says the apostle: "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Rom. 3:19). That was not merely the actual effect of it, but it was the designed effect of it. Its sentence says, "There is none righteous; no, not one."
That sentence was the end of the trial — the end of man's probation. It is the end of the trial when sentence is given. The apostle points out to the Jews that sentence had now been given — given by their own law. The trial of man as to this was ended. It is no use for a moment speaking as if the trial were going on, after sentence has been given. "There is none righteous" — Abraham or Moses, for that matter. The trial is over, the sentence is given, and that is the issue of the law — its foreseen and designed issue — every mouth stopped, and man guilty. I know it is very hard for us to receive this, the law being God's holy, good and righteous law. But the truth is, that the very issue of it as a trial lay in this, that God was taking man up on his own ground. If you take all the forms of religion everywhere, you will find some way or other, they are law-keeping — doing something in order to live. It is the universal principle of what is called "natural religion" — it is the principle of works for acceptance with God; and no wit or wisdom of man has been able to devise another way. That is exactly what Scripture says as to the law. It was the "principles" or "elements of the world." It is what the world everywhere recognizes and acts upon, and rightly as between man and man. Laws are necessary to keep the world in any tolerable condition. We could not live but for them. Now what man finds so necessary in this way he naturally takes up as the principle between God and himself, and even there he is in measure right. The trouble is, he does not know, and would not like to believe, that on that ground he is simply lost, and nothing else; and thus he would bring the measure of what is required down to what he believes to be the measure of his ability, and thus evade the righteous and inevitable sentence.
The law, then, chimes in with the natural thoughts of man's heart everywhere. But he finds it hard to realize that God gave that law simply for the purpose of condemning; for he does not know the heart of God or the resources of His love; and if the law condemn, he sees nothing beyond. All his effort is therefore to escape judgment; but this he cannot, for God is holy and cannot pare down His law; and, on the other hand, no paring down will suffice to give man assurance before God. If sin be a matter of judgment with God, how can man appear before Him with it? The truth is, he is lost; but he will not face the truth. There was one thing, therefore, characteristic of Judaism, as there is one thing characteristic of Christianity. In Judaism it was characteristic that God was hidden; while the one thing characteristic of Christianity is that God is revealed "The Lord has said that He would dwell in thick darkness," says Solomon. "God is in the light," says the apostle. "No man hath seen God at any time: the Only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." "He that hath seen Me," says the Son Himself, "hath seen the Father." Judaism and Christianity are thus in essential contrast. The unrent veil, the way into the holiest not made manifest, God essentially unknown — that is Judaism; and the very names by which God is called show this: He is the Almighty, the Eternal, (perhaps the nearest interpretation of Jehovah,) the Highest. None of these names tell me His heart. The Almighty! How will He use His power? Eternity, Sovereignty — all these are not Himself. But the Son, His well-beloved, comes into the scene becomes a Man to be near to man — and He reveals the Father. There I know Himself.
At the second giving of the law, when, together with law, God spoke of mercy, a gleam of the glory lighted up Moses' face; still it was Jehovah only who appeared. And while it is true He declares Himself as "the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin," He has to add, (because it was still law, which the tables of stone, word for word, again contained,) "and that will by no means clear the guilty." But then, what hope for man, who surely is that? Although God could thus say, as to the wicked man, as He does in Ezekiel, "When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive," still the unrelaxed measure there is still law. Mercy might deal with his past sins and give him a new beginning, but the new leaf he turned over, could he keep it unblotted? Could he ever bring to God the unblotted leaf which He required? Alas, never; he never could save his soul. And the law in its mildest form only made man's deep depravity the more apparent. It was what the apostle calls it, "the ministration of death," and the "ministration of condemnation." And therefore Moses, at the mount, still only saw God's back parts, and not His face. Therefore, also, the unrent veil through all the days of Judaism still showed that "the way into the holiest was not yet made manifest." What was made manifest was but the uselessness of all man's efforts to see God and live.
Now as to the essential characteristic of Christianity.
First. It was not the modification of law: it did not come to make that still milder. On the contrary, the Christian revelation maintains the law in its utmost rigor. It is a Christian apostle who insists that "if a man keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10). And it is another apostle who tells us that "as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them" (Gal. 3:10).
Christianity maintains, then, not abrogates, the righteous condemnation of all upon that ground — upon the ground of works of any kind, that is; for every point of man's duty is covered by the law. Sentence has been given; the trial of man is ended. He is "ungodly," and more, he is "without strength" too. Nothing in the way of goodness or righteousness can be expected from him. What, then, remains? Why, God can show out Himself. He could not do it as long as the trial was going on. Man would naturally have said, I have performed my part of the agreement; I have kept the covenant. Therefore God had to keep His face veiled to man continually. But as soon as there was no doubt at all that man never could make his way in, never could stand before God at all, then, — at the time when man's sin had reached its height, when the Son of God hung dead upon the cross man had given Him, when the carnal mind had shown out thus its enmity against God in the completest way, — God's own hand rent the veil from top to bottom; and by that precious blood-shedding there was a way made to go in to God, and for God, on the other hand, to come out to meet man. Yes, a Man indeed found His way into the presence of God, and sat down there by virtue of His work; but it was the Man, God' s fellow (Zech. 13:7). And the way by which He entered was henceforth a way of access, consecrated and made safe for sinners by the virtue of His precious blood.
That is what characterizes Christianity. God has come in with His grace in a way independent of man's works altogether. There is no more any mixture allowed or possible. As the apostle says, "If it be of grace, it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace" (Rom. 11:6). There is nothing more emphatic than that: you cannot mix these two principles. The gospel of Christianity is grace. God is not requiring from man except that he receive what He offers. He is not asking for righteousness; He is "ministering" it. The sinners exposed and condemned by the law are by the gospel welcomed and set at rest. He who by law could not clear the guilty, by the work of His Son justifies the ungodly. It is God that justifieth. Because "Christ died for the ungodly," He "justifies the ungodly." We are able, then, by the blood of Christ, to go right into God's presence and see Him face to face. And God who was behind the veil and "in thick darkness," is, as the apostle John says, "in the light." And that glory out of which we were once shut, becomes our permanent and peaceful home. But now mark, if that be the case, Christianity at once brings people into a distinct place of acceptance with God and relationship to Him, which Judaism never possibly could give. It brings out, as distinguished from the world, a people reconciled and at peace with God. "To as many as received Him, to them gave He right to become sons of God" (John 1:12, margin).
In Christianity you have thus the "calling out" of those who are able to take their place as children of God. In Judaism there was the mixing up, as people might say now, of the Church and world together. There was no separation, and none possible. In Judaism men were yet being tried, and nobody could take his place as a child of God in the true sense, as born of Him. Nobody could call God in that sense his Father. The apostle tells us in the fourth of Galatians that the true children, though heirs, were in their time of nonage, "under tutors and governors until the time appointed by the Father," and "differing nothing from servants, though lords of all." At school, with the schoolmaster, children say "sir," or "master," and not "father." So also in that condition they would say: "enter not into judgment with Thy servant, O Lord, for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified" (Ps. 143:2).
True, God was a Father to Israel; but Israel was a nation in the flesh — a mingled company of sinners and saints together. There was, there could be, no marking out the one from the other. There was no assembly of saints distinct from sinners. The only calling out was of Israel from the Gentiles, the type only, and in some sense the very contrast, of the calling out of Christians from the world. Thus in Judaism there was complete mingling. In Christianity there is now the separation of God's children, who are exhorted distinctly to come out and be separate from unbelievers, in order really to enjoy their place as that (2 Cor. 6:14-18). Judaism was not in this sense a "calling out," but a mere "synagogue" — a "gathering together." There, in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John, where Caiaphas unconsciously prophesies that Christ should "die for that nation" (Israel), the apostle adds, "and not for that nation only, but also that He might gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." That was one purpose of the death of Christ, that He might be able now to gather together in one the children of God scattered, in fact, by Judaism itself. The Church of God is the assembly of those who, no longer on trial, have the place already of God's children, and, as baptized of the Spirit, Christ's members; whose acceptance is ascertained and settled forever — of grace and not of works, nor mingled with them. The bringing in of Judaism again into the Church was the bringing in of distance between man and God. It was putting back the veil which God had rent on the cross — putting God in the darkness again, and man still under trial, to find his way to meet God and stand before Him if he could. It was putting distance between God and man, of necessity, and covering the blessed face of God which He had revealed in Christ. Call it High Church or what you please, that is what it still is. Of necessity, therefore, it is the remingling of the Church and world together. Because, if they are on trial, nobody knows which is which, you cannot separate saint from sinner, all are together on trial; you cannot, then, separate the children of God from the children of the world.
Now, if you look around, that is what you will find exactly almost everywhere. The results of that awful change from assembly to synagogue are everywhere visible. In the epistle to the Galatians we see what was coming into the Church in the apostle's time; and you know how earnest he is about it: "I would they were even cut off," he says, and warns them, if any one came and brought a different gospel, (not another, for there were not two,) he was to be "anathema" — accursed.
That Judaism has got lodgment in the Church of God means nothing less than the destruction of it in its true character. The first point of departure (after what we were looking at in Ephesus) is the loss, in the true sense, of the very Church itself; and this was before uninspired church-history began. Startling to say, we never have the true Church historically existent as that any more. If an ecclesiastical historian can say "the annals of the Church are the annals of hell," we may surely own that what he is speaking of is not the Church (except in responsibility), but the synagogue of Satan! Is the term too strong? Alas — while Christians are no doubt scattered through it — is the church of Rome, or of Constantine, or even further back, anything better as a whole than the miserable travesty of the true Church, Christ's body? Under whom but under Satan have men wrought to make it so? And every fresh departure from the truth is some fresh growth, in fact, of Judaism. No wonder, since it is man's religion naturally, and he has never been able to produce another. Baptized it may be, and transformed outwardly, no doubt. Men may be called Christians, although they hardly dare call themselves so; "members of Christ," made so by a sacrament; bishops may give the Holy Ghost as freely as apostles ever did, if words may be taken for divine realities! Alas, under it all, and at no great depth, the beautiful form is hollow as a mask, — a whitened sepuchre of impurity itself. Only, — so many are defiled — it has become the fashion, and is not to be talked of; he that departs from iniquity makes himself a prey. Look around, beloved friends, and at least it will not be hard to recognize the forms of Judaism, nor to hear the language of the synagogue, again set up. Doubtless they call themselves Christians, who, if you ask them are they Christ's, will think you have no business to inquire; and if you set up to be His, will wonder at your presumption. If you have no doubt, they will doubt for you. With them, men are still under trial, and they do not know how it will turn out. As in Judaism, you find everything to act upon man through his eye, his ear, his emotional nature: architecture and imposing spectacles; music and oratorical appeals; everything to wake up the religious sentiment in a being who is not wholly "lost." As I have said, although called Christians, you are not to judge if they be really such. They are church-members; but the true Church is invisible, and they know not where it is. They have practical working churches which do well enough. Have they eternal life? — they would be afraid to say. Forgiveness of sins? — they do not know. Are they children of God? — who knows? It is charity to suppose they are, and they will accredit you if you will accredit them. Is not that what you find on every side almost? A mixture of the Church and the world follows, of course. Separation is reprobated. It is Pharisaism — pretending to be better than your neighbor.
All that is just really what we have here. It is the world gathered together, as the substitute for God's gathering of His own. God is gathering people out of the world; a people who are "not of the world, even as Christ is not of the world." As to the Church, it is practically gone. The world of necessity comes in like a flood, and the children of God are swamped. They call it the "religious world," and so it is, although believers there are in it, many — overridden, bemired, and in bondage; a bondage which they feel, while they cannot break through it. If there be any fundamental difference between the Church and the world, what must ensue from that mixture? The Church becomes the world, and the world the Church. "All that is of the world" is necessarily found in it. To this day "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life," are all there, and flourishing; and who rules over the world? Who is its god and prince?
I close here tonight with just an application. You will, I hope, not misunderstand me, or think that I am confounding all Christendom together under the awful title we have been examining. God's own Church still exists, thank God. Its members are to be found on all sides, though, alas, scattered, and largely refusing true union with one another for the sake of alliances which, if they had eyes to see, they would recognize as of the world. I do not forget that we of this day are heirs to evils which come to us sanctioned by great names, and by dear ones. I must not shrink on that account from calling them by their true titles: I am bound the more to do it. It is those who lent themselves in very early times to change the true Church of God into a Jewish gathering upon legal principles, confounding His people and the world together, whom He denounces as Satan's synagogue. But alas, the attempt was largely successful. Men slept. The sad results are with us today. The practice and the principles remain — widely diffused, long and almost universally accepted. The true Church has disappeared — is invisible. Of God's light for the world a few scattered lights appear, dim enough amid the darkness.
How far to yourselves or in general the principles I have described apply, you must discern for yourselves. Only let us be honest and be earnest. Let us not scruple to call evil that, because good men have practiced it. And what we see as evil, let us refuse with our whole hearts. Let us refuse to call law gospel — to sanction it or listen to it. Let us remember the apostle's fearless and scathing words; — had I used such tonight, what would people say? Let us refuse, too, complicity with what has changed the face of the professing Church, until the features of Christ's spouse are no more visible. Let us refuse the yoke with unbelievers, even though they be baptized and orthodox unbelievers. It is the Lord says, not I, that we must do so that He may be, practically, to us the Father that He is. With these words let us close: "Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?" (an unbeliever). "And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" (2 Cor. 6:14-18).