One of Satan's most successful devices is to band people, and even Christians, together for the purpose of attacking a manifest evil while he is endeavouring to strengthen and to establish a more subtle and more dangerous iniquity. This has often been witnessed in the history of the Church, as, for example, when he has persuaded men to defend and vindicate the truth of God by resorting to the sword, or by calling in the assistance of the civil powers in the way of persecution. The Lord Himself warned His disciples that the time would come when they who killed them would think that they were doing God service. In such ways Satan pursues his own ends, and he often carries out his own designs, in his hostility to God and to His people, through the mistaken zeal - zeal not according to knowledge - of the children of God. A striking instance of it may be seen at the present moment in the union of so many antagonistic forces against ritualism and Roman Catholicism. The sad spectacle is presented of politicians, of nominal and of real Christians, uniting against what they deem a common foe and a disturber of the peace. And many others, who form no part of the combination, have joined in the fray, with tongue or with pen, in the hope that the interests of the truth may thereby be subserved. The evil they are assailing cannot be over-estimated; it has been slowly sapping for years the foundations of Christianity, and it has been helping for a long period to quench the pure light of the gospel of the grace of God.
Admitting, and insisting, indeed, upon this, even with vehemence, a danger as great, if not greater, is concealed, through the artifice of Satan, in the controversy which is now being waged. That danger is RATIONALISM, which in its true essence is infidelity. Thus there are in the ranks of the aggressors upon ritualism many who deny the inspiration of the Scriptures, who are unsound as to the Person of Christ, and who do not accept the scriptural presentation of the atonement; and if ritualism were swept out of the land tomorrow, it would only be, and Satan knows it well, to make larger room for that rationalistic infidelity which is corrupting the channels of spiritual life on every hand through the literature of the day. Let it be again stated that the evils of ritualism, and what they lead to, cannot be magnified; nor do we desire to draw any comparison between the two, or to offer any judgment as to which of the two is the more deadly enemy of Christ and His truth. We simply wish to emphasize the fact that while many real believers are expending their energies in the conflict with the doctrines of Jezebel, Satan is using his opportunity of broadening the foundations of that which will eventually deny the Father and the Son; that is, as we are warned by the apostle, the Antichrist. If John had to urge upon the saints of his day that even then there were many antichrists abroad in the world, much more may we expect now to detect the signs of their activity.
It may then be helpful, especially to young believers, to consider briefly what the Scriptures have to say concerning rationalism. In Colossians 2 Paul warns us against three enemies of Christianity - rationalism, ritualism, and superstition, and it may be observed that he puts the first into the front rank. These are his words: "Beware lest any man spoil you [lead you away as a prey] through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." What then is meant by philosophy and vain deceit? It is the application of the human mind, human powers of reasoning, to the Scriptures and to divine things; and it is thus the expression of man's competency to sit in judgment upon the Word of God and what that Word reveals. This is done, and the right to do it is claimed on all sides, and the effect upon souls is that they do not know what to believe, and accordingly they lapse very much into the state of Pilate as embodied in the question he addressed to the Lord, "What is truth?" What other result can be produced when it is maintained, for instance, by one of the most popular preachers and writers of the day, whose "orthodoxy" it was not even permitted to question, that neither Paul nor John understood the nature of the death of Christ? It may, indeed, be doubted whether eight out of every ten professing Christians met with would not hesitate to affirm the plenary inspiration of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The evil is spread far and wide, and, like some infection in the air, it is spreading ever more widely; it has penetrated unnoticed into many a godly family circle, and it has filled the minds of many of the young with doubts and questionings, if not with infidelity.
Another scripture may be adduced. In Revelation 2 we find the message of the risen Lord to the angel of the church of Thyatira. It is in this assembly, through the teaching of Jezebel, that what is denominated "popery" takes its rise, and judgment is passed upon it. From the fact there alluded to, that Jezebel has not only associates, them that commit adultery with her, but also children, we may gather that the ritualists of the present day are divinely regarded as her progeny, and that they come under the sentence the Lord has passed upon them - "I will kill her children with death"; that is, if we understand it rightly, that their false sacerdotalism and their rites and ceremonies, coming, as they do, between Christ and their souls, will entail judicially upon them moral or spiritual death. It is not using language too strong when we say that this product of Jezebel's activity is an abomination to the Lord. But let us see what follows. Thyatira reaches down to the end, as is clear from verse 5. In Sardis a new commencement is made through the energy of the Spirit of God; when that energy ceases, Sardis is found with a name to live, but dead. Philadelphia is a parenthesis where the Lord's approval can rest on those who, through His grace, with a little strength, keep His word and do not deny His name. The last phase of the Church on earth is seen in Laodicea, and that phase is Rationalism, in which those eyes which were as a flame of fire could discern nothing whatever of Christ. The first man is seen in Laodicea, revived and rehabilitated, and the Second Man out of heaven is wholly excluded. And so nauseous is this state of things to Christ that He declares His irrevocable purpose to "spue" the angel of Laodicea out of His mouth. The way of individual recovery is shown for any real ones who might have been entangled in this baleful evil, but the doom of Laodicea is irreversible.
What, then, is most to be dreaded at the present moment is not ritualism, though we are not to shut our eyes to its abominable errors, but rationalism, because it is the sure precursor of the apostasy which will culminate, when the Church is rapt away, in the man of sin, the Antichrist. We must be on our guard, therefore, must seek grace to watch and pray, lest we fall into Satan's snare of blinding our eyes to the greater evil in uniting in the popular conflict with Romanism. Those who applaud this controversy will close their ears when the errors of rationalism are exposed. Man as man will engage in the warfare with the claims of a human priesthood; but that same man (the first man) will cling tenaciously to rationalism because it exalts him, his powers of mind, and his competency of judgment - at the expense of Christ. Let it be remembered, moreover, that the only weapons to be used in God's conflicts are spiritual, that the only sword of the Spirit is the word of God. As Paul says, "We do not war after the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds); casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." (2 Cor. 10:3-5.) In addition to this, the character of the weapons to be employed, it cannot be too strenuously impressed upon us that these weapons cannot be used unless we are in the suited state of soul, unless, in a word, we have put on the whole armour of God. (Eph. 6.)