A very important question!
That it has at least exerted a highly beneficent influence we must all admit; and, further, had its maxims been allowed to prevail effectually, that influence would have been far greater. But it has been encountered by the keenest opposition everywhere on account of the very holiness of these maxims. It is not only that its advocates have been punished by fire and sword, not only that its printed page has often been consumed; but it has had to deal with a heart and mind in every soul of man which rebel against its doctrines. “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force.” “The light shines in darkness and the darkness comprehends it not.” Still, spite of all, its influence has been, and certainly is, purifying, refining, and elevating.
And just as imitation is the highest flattery, so have the holy and purifying truths of Christianity been widely acknowledged. But does that count for much? Alas, it does not! That which is not more than skin-deep will soon wear off. Mere admiration means nothing. Let us look at the state of things in which Christianity found the world when it came into it. I will quote from Romans 1:29-31, which gives an inspired and accurate picture of the condition of the inhabitants of the world at that point of time; they were:
“Filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.”
Here we have an indictment of twenty-two terrible counts preferred by the unerring Spirit of truth against the fallen and guilty race of Adam. Scout it who may; turn away if you please from a picture so revolting; decline to believe the divinely given photograph; say it must be an exaggeration if you will; but there it hangs before the gaze of man in the gallery of Scripture. That was, spite of all incredulity, the actual and de facto state and condition of the race when the glorious light of Christianity burst through the darkness and shone upon men. That was man, that was—to use a very favourite word of today—humanity! How essentially loathsome! How beneath the brute creation morally viewed.
It is long since I have ceased to be an admirer of man as such—ever since I learned what he did at Calvary. There we can see the inherent wickedness of his fallen nature, when he crucified the greatest benefactor the world ever saw—the lowly Son of Man, the ever-blessed Son of God!
All the counts of the above indictment, and more beside, concentrate in that crowning sin. That is enough—that is man.
This is not misanthropy, not in the least a jaundiced appraisement of humanity. It will stand the test of experiment and demonstrate its own accuracy.
Let us eschew the poor infidelity of the present day which denies the fall in Eden, and the all too patent fact that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” thereby.
Yes, but that picture was painted two thousand years ago, and allowance must surely be made for all that Christianity has wrought.
Very well, let us see what that really is, and whether it was ever intended that Christianity should regenerate the world—whether that were its object. I will again quote the same inspired pen as it describes the state of things in the circle of Christianity when it shall have reached the last days of its testimony—not the end of the world, but that of the system of which we are speaking. The reader will be struck by the indictment:
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come, for men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.”
Here we have eighteen counts almost identical with those in Romans 1; but notice the nineteenth and last, “having a form of godliness but denying the powers thereof” (2 Tim. 3:1-4).
Compare these two pictures—the first depicting the state of the world at the entrance of Christianity, the second describing that of the very sphere in which it had been professed during these twenty centuries when its last days have arrived.
The reader must admit that there is very little difference between the two, and will conclude that Christianity has been, in its own showing, a failure, and that it leaves things in the world no better than it found them.
But what was God’s purpose in Christianity. Was it intended to be a lever to exalt the world as such, or was it designed to deliver souls out of the world and its inevitable doom? The latter assuredly. Hence the command to repentance and separation from the world.
“Now,” we read in John 12:31, “is the judgment of this world.” The cross of Christ is its moral end before God. The verdict is passed. Friendship with the world is enmity against God. The Spirit is here to convince the world of sin because of its rejection of Christ. “The whole world lies in the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). “This present evil age” is how the Christian period is described. “Evil men shall wax worse and worse” (2 Tim. 3:17). Scripture holds out no hope for the world as such. Its sentence must end in final judgment. The profession has utterly failed. Then, secondly, in what respect has Christianity not failed? What has it accomplished?
Its victories, and victories they are, are purely spiritual. The kingdom of God, by the power of the Holy Ghost, pursues its holy career, apart from the material forces of men. Like the wind which bloweth where it listeth, it gains its triumphs secretly. Its first breath on the glad day of Pentecost severed three thousand souls from an untoward generation and incorporated them in the new structure called the church (the “called out” ones), and so, onward through these nearly two thousand years, the same silent work has proceeded, and will proceed, till the Lord shall come again and present that church to Himself without spot or wrinkle or any such thing (Eph. 5:27).
Many interests connect themselves with the life and destiny of the church on which we may not enter here. But it is just in this divine work—and not in the imitation of it—that we see the reality. This, the building of God, shall remain. The gates of hell shall not prevail here.
In this, which is indeed its only mission, Christianity is no failure. Externally, as to its mere profession, it has been parodied beyond all recognition. It has been degraded to a vast and godless Babylon whose judgment lingers not. But, in itself, as the work of God it shall appear faultless. That which we witness today, in the false profession of it, is but a huge travesty, possessing little more than technical terms, and phrases indicating the connection—a form of godliness, indeed, where the power—the only true and distinctive mark—is denied.
This—the false profession of Christianity—may indeed be “a failure”; and on it the severest of judgment shall burst ere long, in “one hour” its desolation shall come (see Rev. 18), sudden, swift, and final, and only too well-deserved.
But the purpose of God, that which He has wrought, shall abide. The heavenly city shall be seen complete, perfect, “having the glory of God,” the witness of His grace and power, His wisdom and love. “That which God does shall be for ever.”
Let us distinguish very clearly between the false and the true, the kernel and the husk, that which God builds and that which results from the building of man, and take our stand accordingly.
This last is, if you please, “a failure.” It has reached the end foretold of it. There is no need for surprise nor alarm. The profession has utterly collapsed and broken down. The imitation has, of course, proved, lamentably defective.
It appears at the close to be identical with the awful condition which existed at the beginning. The indictments are almost interchangeable; only there is the added crime of light rejected and truth despised—an awful addition!
These are solemn facts as we contemplate the imminence of two near events: first, the coming of the Lord for the removal to heaven of that which is genuine; and second, the subsequent swift and terrible judgment that will overtake the false. We are nearing these crises.
The church at Philadelphia was cheered by the promise, “Behold, I come quickly.” That at Laodicea was warned by the announcement: “I will spue thee out of my mouth.”
May His grace make every true Christian to carry and exhibit all the marks of a vital Christianity.