I do not think the fact will be questioned by any spiritual person that the aspect of things in Christendom is very serious. It is evident that the pulpits are being filled by those who go in much more for free-thought and rationalism than for Christianity. It would be very much more to the credit of such leaders if they, as honest men, gave up the name of Christ altogether; but, of course, that would not suit the master under whom they serve, and therefore the name is retained while the truth is given up. I am not, I trust, speaking as prompted by fleshly irritation, though the fact that the name of Christ is retained while His truth is abandoned, is quite sufficient to fill every upright and honourable mind with indignation, but I am just seeking to place before the reader the state of things which obtains in Christendom as it really exists.
Of course I am likely to be told by many of these leaders that they glory in the name of Christ, because He is by far the greatest teacher of ethics that has ever been in the world, and that therefore they delight to call themselves Christian. Yes, but this Person, who is worshipped by all true believers, makes claims which, if foundationless, are inconsistent with all true notions of morality. I would not care to take my place at the feet of an impostor to learn the science of morals. But I will not pursue the subject farther. If anyone thinks that a man, deceived as to his own origin, as to his mission into the world, as to his teaching, as to his works of power, and as to what would come to him three days after his crucifixion, is a man to glory in, I must leave that man as one with whom it is impossible for me to agree; and if he considers that a man who asserts that his origin is Divine, that he can work miracles, that be will be raised again by the power of God three days after men have killed him, that in resurrection he is to have all power in heaven and in earth, and that he will come again to reign over the world and judge it for a thousand years, while well aware all the time that there is not a word of truth in his assertions, is a man to teach others the distinction between good and evil—with the man who can think so I must part company: therefore have I parted company with such men and hope to remain apart from the company of such as long as I am on earth.
But “like priest like people”; as these men have the ear of the masses, what can we expect the profession of Christianity to be like? It is just that which the blessed Son of God said it would be. The tares are growing rank among the wheat; and the tares are not only unconverted people, they are the children of the Devil, it was he who placed them where they are (Matt. 13:38-39); and with their wicked doctrine the whole mass of Christendom is leavened. Hence there is nothing but judgment for it.
The tares are not only the rationalist. There can be no question as to his origin; he rejects the Christ of God, the Christ who is the great Subject of Holy Scripture, and has a Christ of his own creation whom he mistakes for the true Christ of God. The Scriptures also he places on a level with the writings of all the sages who have set themselves up as teachers of ethics since the world began. Hence it is not difficult to see that such a leader is not of God; neither is it hard to see that his opposition to the Son of God, and to the only revelation which God has given us, must come from him who is the enemy of God and of man also.
But we have also the ritualist to reckon with. The rationalist is bold in his blasphemy, and tells us we have no revelation from God, except that which may be known of Him by the things which He has made, and by the spirit within us, which is, after all, our best instructor. But the ritualist intrudes his notions upon us in a more insidious way. He admits the Scriptures to be the revelation of God, but drags his victims back to a dispensation which has passed away; to an order of things which belongs to earth, and which places the flesh in relationship with God, thus destroying the effect of the cross in the souls of men, and the heavenly character of Christianity. In his case it is quite as real an attack of the Devil as in the case of the rationalist, but in the former the enemy appears as an angel of tight, and his servants as ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:13-15). These two terrible evils appear in Revelation under the head of Jezebel (ritualism), and Laodicea (rationalism).
And from their leaven there is nothing really free. The leaven hidden in the three measures of meal leavened the whole lump (Matt. 13:33). It is of the infinite mercy of God that the eyes of any of His beloved people have been opened to see the evil, so that they may avoid it. There is sufficient light in Scripture for the darkest day through which we may be called to pass, but we require to have our eyes anointed with eye-salve, in order that we may be able to make use of the instructions supplied to us in the Word. With the ritualists the system of the clergy is everything; with the rationalists it is the mind of man.
But are not we all affected with these two evils? I have pointed out that the Word says, “The whole was leavened.” The evil shows itself in various ways. Where there may be no outward appearance of a clerical system, an ordained, human appointed, and recognized priesthood, has it not often been seen that a few clever, headstrong leaders sometimes arrogate to themselves a position and an authority in divine things which outshine the Roman Bishop himself? They may be designated “the spiritual” or “leading men”; the term spiritual is preferred by themselves, but their object is to bring the people of God into complete subjection to their system. I suppose this is what is referred to in Revelation 2 as Nicolaitanism. It is said the word means “Conquerors of the people.” The saints of God are by them brought into subjection. Those who prefer to serve God apart from their dictation are placed under a ban, and spoken of as lawless, and all in every place are warned against having anything to do with them. They take the place of “Lords over God’s heritage” (1 Peter 5:3). Inspected closely they are always found to be men of neither spirituality nor of moral calibre, such as would fit them for a prominent place among the people of God; but are simply men of determination who will have a place of pre-eminence no matter by what means it is to be attained. “Servant of all” (Mark 9:35) is not a place which is coveted by them, and yet this is just the divine way of reaching the top of the ladder.
The doctrine of Balaam and that of the Nicolaitanes seem to thrive together in the same assembly (Pergamos, Rev. 2). I gather from this that they are not very antagonistic to one another. Neither of them is of God. They have one father, and that is the Devil, and between the two there is a strong family likeness. Neither the one nor the other cares for the people of God. Each takes up the saints to serve his own ends. The elements of these evils were found in the Christian assembly, even in the days of the Apostles; for nothing has since come in that was not then there in germ. In one way it is well for us that this is so, because we now have the mind of the Spirit concerning the evil, which at the present moment gives character to the profession.
What is the remedy for all this? Is there to be any mending of the profession? I see no indication of such a thing in Scripture. We are taught the very reverse. Things are to grow worse and worse until the apostasy comes. What, then, is there for us individually? Must we go on with the evil? Of one thing we may be quite certain: we cannot purge it out. What then? Are we to go hand in hand with it? Surely not. We are just to follow in the Spirit of Christ through the midst of all this tangle of error as if everything was quite as it should be. The more difficult the day, the better opportunity there is for proving the grace of the heart of Christ. Why should the state of this vast profession hinder me from enjoying the love of God, and pleasing the Lord in my pathway of service for His glory? Can it hinder me in my race for heaven? Most certainly it cannot. Can it separate me from the love of Christ? Surely not. Can it come between me and the love of God? Impossible. Can it terrify me with its anathemas? Not if my heart is reposing in divine love. Can it ensnare me with its offer of fleshly gratification? Ah, here I must be careful, and not allow my soul to be united to the assembly of those who rejoice in wielding instruments of cruelty (Gen. 49:5-6). Let me rather “Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour” (Eph. 5:2).
But is there no prospect before us better than toiling through this maze of confusion, error, hatred, and strife, which bears the name of Christ? Yes, there is a way out of it all, and a very bright way indeed. What is that way? “The mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 20). This is the way out of all the sorrows of the journey through this evil world, and what a bright outlet it is! To be with Him who loved the Church and gave Himself for it! What could be better? And the desert will soon be a thing of the past. It will have left its mark upon us; or perhaps I should say, the Lord will have left His mark upon us, by all His wise and gracious dealings with us in our journey through the desert. We can learn the resources which are in Himself—nay, we can learn Himself, in such scenes as we are now called to pass through, in a way in which we could not have learned Him in the early days of the history of the Church, when everything was in order and pleasing to Him.
Let us go on, then, in humility of mind and heart, not seeking to be something and somebody, but esteeming others better than ourselves, and loving and serving the saints for His own sake who died for every one of them. We see His own patient grace with them in the days of His flesh, when He was in the midst of them as One who served. Oh, to drink into His Spirit a little more deeply in order to come out down here displaying more of His meekness, grace, and love; caring also for His interests, holding fast His word, not denying His name, and ready at all times to lay down our lives for the brethren. Let us not seek to be lords over God’s heritage, but rather ensamples to the flock; and let us also beware of spiritual pride, boasting of riches, and increase of goods, as those who are self-satisfied, while the Lord Himself has little or no place in our affections; but let us know something of the blessedness of supping with Him, and having Him sup with us (Rev. 3:20). May our eyes be found fixed upon the way out of all this confusion, the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.