The collapse of Christendom does not mean that of the church. By the former we understand the moral sphere of the profession of Christianity, formed by the administration of Christian rites and sacraments; by the latter the work of God in the hearts of men by His Word and Spirit—the body of Christ, of which every true believer is a member, and united by the Holy Ghost to Him, the Head on high. This is clearly a divine work and wholly indestructible, one against which the gates of hell cannot prevail. It was “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world”; and, though gradually formed on earth during the period of Christ’s session at the right hand of God, it will give glory to God through the eternal ages, as we learn from the first three chapters of the Epistle to the Ephesians. It is, par excellence, the work of God, created in Christ Jesus, the result and fruit of the indwelling Spirit, who is both the seal and the earnest of the final and indefectible result in heavenly glory. For such a work to God be all the praise. It is the outcome of “the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is the church of God—His assembly, and composed of such as we, whose origin and history could not have been worse, for we were dead in trespasses and sins, having no hope and without God in the world. But then, God, who is rich in mercy, loved us while in that condition, and devised a way through the blood of Christ to bring us nigh in Him, and to place us in the relation of children, so that we have “access by one Spirit to the Father.”
Wonderful grace indeed. Well may our hearts flow over in worship.
Then what is Christendom?
It is, in result, the human imitation of the church, a creation by man of the vast profession around us today, which has been moulded and defined by certain Christian doctrines and practices which are distinctive in themselves from other religious or heathen observances. Hence we have Christendom and Heathendom.
Christendom is a generic term used to cover the whole profession of which the true church is but a part, an “imperium in imperio”; it is like the shell which contains the kernel, the field in which the crop of wheat exists. It is, administratively, the kingdom of heaven, as in Matthew 13.
In early days the church and the profession were conterminous; they were, indeed, the same. At that time the fires of holiness and devotedness to Christ burned so strongly that “of the rest durst no man join himself to them.” That little, brilliant, faithful company of apostolic Christians offered no worldly attractions to would-be followers. Silver and gold they had none. The cross was their glory; the name of an earth-rejected Christ was their boast; the power of divine love their bond; and the Word of God their weapon and food. They were in the joy of death and resurrection with Christ; their face shone like an angel’s; they were full of the Holy Ghost, and fell asleep in full view of “the glory of God and Jesus.”
Days all too short, testimony all too brief. The thing was so enchanting that the devil could not let it alone. He planned persecution; but martyrdom for Christ’s sake became a pleasure. He devised something more effective, and introduced imitation. Nothing could be more diabolic, nor more awfully successful. “Certain men crept in unawares” (Jude), and “false teachers brought in damnable heresies” (2 Peter 2). Wolves spared not the flock, and perverse things were spoken by those least suspected.
The ministry was usurped by those to whom the truth meant nothing. The pulpit began to monopolize the ministry, and was occupied by the hireling. The proclamation of the pure gospel of God’s saving grace was set aside for the teaching of philosophy and ethics. Culture took the place of conversion, and fables that of the truth, and “a great house” has been constructed full of vessels to dishonour as well as, thank God, of honour. But the net result is Christendom, the appalling witness to man’s unfaithfulness in failing to safeguard the testimony of the Lord committed to his trust. The leaven of evil (for so it always is) has permeated the entire mass, and fowls of the air find a lodging-place in the branches of the mustard tree.
The spiritual collapse of the profession is complete. A “form of godliness remains,” but it is so disfigured by the love of pleasure, and other glaring defects, that the man of God is charged to “turn away from” it (2 Tim. 3) and to honour the Lord which makes wise unto salvation.
Its end is announced in Romans 11. There continuance in God’s goodness is pressed, “otherwise” (mark the word), “thou shalt be cut off.” Just as unfaithful Israel was cast off, so shall this highly privileged but most infidel profession of Christianity be finally and definitely “cut off.” It shall be (as we read in the letter to the church at Laodicea) spued out of the mouth of the Lord. Now nauseous it must be to Him!
The church “caught up!”
Christendom “cut off.”
The saints raised and changed, every one of them, in heavenly glory!
The mere profession, opening its door to the coming man of sin, shall, under his hypnotic influence, believe the lie, and be damned because it believed not the truth.
Such is to be the doom of Christendom. “Judgment begins at the house of God”; but, if so, where shall it end?
The days are serious, the end is nearing. “The coming of the Lord draws nigh,” possibly very nigh. Oh, how deeply welcome to the faithful heart; how terrible to the false professor!
“I would,” says the Lord, “thou wert either cold or hot.”