Ritualism: and what will be the end of it?

“And as Jesus entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said to them, Go show yourselves to the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back and with a loud voice glorified God. And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said to him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith has made thee whole.” Luke 17.

There has been much said of late on the subject of Ritualism, but I have not yet seen it brought to, and fairly examined by, the word of God, in the presence of Him who is the light. This I desire to do; and so far as God by His Spirit shall guide me in His word, I hope to declare, unflinchingly, the counsel of God on this subject.

The Scripture before us throws great light on Ritualism. Let us examine it. In a certain village there were ten lepers. And into that village Jesus enters. Here is man suffering from that loathsome disease which, above all others, is a picture of his horrible state through sin. Into this scene Jesus enters. And man, the leper, stands face to face before Jesus, the Saviour. Have you, my reader, ever thus stood face to face before this same Jesus? I say, Jesus comes into this scene. Jesus thus meets man in his wretchedness. What a strange cry the presence of Jesus called forth from these poor lepers! “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Surely this is the proper language of man as a sinner. And He who alone could heal the leper, can meet and cleanse the sinner. These ten lepers knew their need. May I ask, Have you ever known your deep need of the cleansing blood of Jesus?

But what a strange answer Jesus gives them: “Go show yourselves to the priests.” Marvellous words! As though He had said, Go to the Levitical ritualism. I suppose you remember, my reader, that that ritualism was not yet abolished — the work was not yet finished — the one sacrifice was not yet offered — the veil was not yet rent. If you turn to the Levitical ritualism (Lev. 14), the first thing you learn is, that it was of no use for the leper to show himself to the priest except he was healed. Very beautifully is the principle of faith brought out here then: “Go show yourselves to the priests.” Unbelief might have said, nay, would have said, “But we do not feel any better.” To look at themselves, how could they go? They heard and believed the words of Jesus. Have you thus heard and thus believed? Or are you saying, I must feel better first? “He that hears my word, and believes on him that sent me, has everlasting life.”

“And it came to pass, as they went they were cleansed.” Yes, they felt better, not before, but after they believed: they were cleansed. This was a reality, a certainty. This is the simple, naked principle of faith. In Jesus they had found the substance of which the ritualism of Leviticus 14 was but a series of shadows. Very striking were these ancient shadows. Viewing the poor leper as a type of the sinner, then these shadows set forth the varied aspects of the offering and resurrection of Christ. Indeed it is full of Christ. It was then God’s ritualism. Each rite pointing to Christ. The law of the leper could not heal the leper. Oh no! when compared with our precious Christ, these were mere beggarly elements. But when he was healed, then the priest took two birds alive and clean. And by these two birds was shadowed forth the only way by which a sinner can be cleansed.

One bird was killed. Yes, for Jesus must needs suffer atoning death. “He was delivered for our offences.” But for this death, faith would have nothing to rest in. Then the other bird was dipped in the blood of the bird that was killed. Seven times is this blood sprinkled on him that is to be cleansed. The priest pronounces him clean; and then lets the living bird fly into the open air. This living bird was God’s pronunciation that the leper was clean.

“And was raised again for our justification.” If the poor leper believed God’s pronunciation, he knew for certain, that as sure as the live bird was let loose, so surely he was clean. And if you, my reader, believe God, who raised up Jesus from among the dead, who was thus delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification, then, like the cleansed leper, you know with certainty that as surely as Jesus is raised from the dead, so surely are you justified. And in Him you are clean every whit. This you may find fully proved in Romans 4 and 5. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead, is God’s pronunciation that the believer is justified. And believing God, his sins are forgiven; sin is not reckoned; righteousness is reckoned. Oh! what peace toward God this gives!

The apostle says, “Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Now if the leper knew he was clean when the priest said so, may not the believer know that he is justified when God says so? Surely the resurrection of Jesus is a brighter proof than the letting loose of the little bird. Just think these three things over again. Sins forgiven — sin not reckoned — righteousness reckoned. Justified from sins by the blood of Jesus; justified from sin; reckoned dead with Him. Reckoned righteous, or justified in Him risen: all of Adam passed away, all now accomplished righteousness in the risen Christ. And to the believer this is most true on the principle of naked faith in the word of God.

Deeply interesting are the truths shadowed forth in Leviticus 14. Everything of mere nature cut off — the hair and the beard. The washings and the offerings, all of which point to Christ, and all tell out in softest harmonies the perfection of His one offering. I do love to think, that, as the once wretched leper and “those things” were presented before the Lord, so I, by nature a sinful leper, am now presented in all the perfections of Christ, through the value of His blood, in all the sweet savour of His holy person. Oh! my God and Father, am I thus for ever presented, for ever perfected in Him? I bow, I own the riches of thy grace, the depths of thy mercy.

And now, if we trace this wondrous lesson a little farther, we find the once wretched leper anointed with oil. The blood of the trespass-offering is put upon the tip of his right ear, the thumb of his right hand, the great toe of his right foot, and the oil, sprinkled seven times before the Lord, is put upon the blood, “and poured upon his head.” Oh! how blessedly this tells out the perfect value of the blood of Jesus! It makes the once guilty sinner a perfected worshipper. And where the blood is seen, the Holy Ghost is given as an ever abiding witness of the value of that precious blood. Very fully is this seen in Hebrews 10.

But let us return to our ten lepers. They believed the word of Jesus; and as they went they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back. Just now there were ten faces on ritualism, and ten backs on Christ; now one turns his back on ritualism and his face on Christ. And whilst these nine are ritualists, this one becomes a worshipper. I am not speaking of man’s ritualism, towards which nine out of every ten faces seem turned in this day; but of God’s own ritualism, given expressly by Himself until Christ the Substance came. And this I learn, that when this poor leper knew Jesus to be the living God, he could not have his face to Jesus without turning his back on ritualism.

Which way do you stand, my reader? Is your face toward ritualism? — then your back is on Christ. If your face is toward Christ, then your back is on ritualism.

But this one knew he was healed. He did not hope so. If he had, he had better have gone with the nine to see the bird let loose. “With a loud voice he glorified God, and fell down on his face, giving thanks.”

It was quite right for a leper in his wretchedness to cry, “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon me.” Would it be right now that Jesus had had mercy? Would this have been worship, to have kept saying, “Jesus, have, mercy upon me, a miserable leper?” You know it would have been insult, and mockery, and unbelief. And let us carefully note how welcome this worshipper was to Jesus. “Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God save this stranger. And he said to him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith has made thee whole.”

Now I believe the root of ritualism is that unbelief which doubts the reality of the grace of God, in the work of Christ; and the certain remedy against it is that simple faith that, knowing I am cleansed, gives glory to God.

The Samaritan leper knew he was cleansed, then why should he go to ritualism to be cleansed? He knew that Jesus had in richest mercy healed him, then why should he cry any more, Jesus, Master, have mercy upon me? Then what gives glory to God from one who is cleansed? Adoring thanksgiving!

Let us, then, apply this to the sinner’s salvation; and the real source of ritualism will be as clear as noon-day.

Let us take a believer, who knows that Jesus has met all his need as a sinner on the cross; that God has thus shown him the deepest mercy; that he is sanctified by the offering of Christ: not only cleansed, but for ever perfected. And if he believes Hebrews 10 he must know all this. Now does it become him to approach God as a miserable sinner, ever crying for mercy to God; as if he doubted every word that God has spoken? Yea, it is a very solemn thing to say, but it does seem to me that to act in this way of unbelief, is really to deny that Jesus has come in the flesh, and finished the work of redemption. It is quite true if you do not believe God, and if you are not therefore cleansed; if you do not believe that God has shown mercy, love, and righteousness, in the gift of Jesus; if you can deliberately say that God’s testimony to the blood of Jesus is not enough to give the certainty of peace. Very well, then you are quite consistent in still crying for mercy, and in turning your back on Christ, and your face on ritualism.

But I think I hear my reader say, “My dear sir, you are forgetting that thousands of real Christians are taught to express their humble doubts, by taking the position of the sinner, ever crying for mercy.” I beg your pardon, I do not forget this: but I believe that this very thing is the reason why so many are taken up with ritualism. Let me ask you: If you are cleansed, can anything be more dishonouring to Christ than to doubt it? And can anything be more pleasing to Him, than to fall at His feet a happy worshipper, giving Him thanks? I will grow a little bolder, and say, that no person who knows, on the testimony of God’s word, that he has redemption, even the forgiveness of sins, through the blood of Jesus, can possibly be taken up with ritualism.

Surely this must be a solemn question, for all who love the truth of the believer’s complete justification in the risen Christ. Many have thus been blest: were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? May our blessed God turn your face to Christ, and your back on everything else.

The nine lepers had their backs on Jesus, and their faces toward the ritualism of Jerusalem. The ritualist now stands with his back on Christ and his face, where? Is it not on the ritualism of Rome? And what is the ritualism of Rome? Is it not a system of rites and ordinances of men, all based on the supposition, that the believer is not cleansed from all sins? that the one sacrifice of Christ once offered is not perfect, and is not everlasting in its efficacy? that there needs repetition of sacrifice, like the imperfect sacrifices of the law? that all believers have not boldness to enter into the presence of God, as holy worshippers? nay, that the blood of Jesus is of so little value, that those who do believe will have to be burnt in purgatory, &c.? I am no controversialist, but can any one show me that this unbelief, and turning the back on Christ, is not the very foundation of Romish ritualism? If by one sacrifice I am for ever perfected, what need have I of either the sacrifice of the mass or purgatory?

If you look in Colossians 2, you will find that this completeness in Christ is the grand reason why we are forbidden to have anything to say to ritualism. The ritualist is very consistent; he does not believe in this completeness in Christ; and therefore he turns his face to ritualism. The believer is shown to be complete in Him. Buried with Him; risen with Him. All trespasses forgiven. And it is this being dead and risen with Him that constitutes our completeness in Him. “Wherefore, if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.”

Now just as faith produces obedience, so unbelief always leads to disobedience. The ritualist does not believe in this completeness in Christ risen; he therefore disobeys with all his heart these plain commands of scripture. He says, I will be subject to ordinances — I will touch, I will taste, I will handle — I will walk after the commandments and doctrines of men. His whole system is will-worship. Thus unbelief produces a harvest of disobedience to God. Thus is his back on Christ and his face on ritualism. O how sweet the contrast to the Christian! “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God,” &c.

The one leper knew he was cleansed, then why still pray for mercy and cleansing? Much more, why should he go back to the rites of Leviticus to get cleansing when now he knew that he was cleansed? The believer can give thanks, like the one leper, with a loud voice, as it is written, “Giving thanks to the Father which has made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son; in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1.) Is this the thanksgiving of your soul, my reader? Do you thus believe that the redemption you have, is absolutely perfect, and makes you fit for the inheritance in light? I say again, the whole question turns on faith or unbelief. Perhaps you say, “If this is the case, turning the back on Christ in unbelief, and going back to ritualism is a very serious matter: what will be the end of it?” Yes, that is just what I want to enquire into:

What will be the End of it?

That question will be answered if we examine a parallel case in Hebrews 10.

The whole of this epistle is occupied with the ritualism of the law: each part is contrasted with the person and work of Christ. And we are distinctly told in chapter 9, the Holy Ghost signified by that ritualism, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest: that these were only carnal rites or ordinances imposed until Christ. Then in chapter 10 the sacrifices of that ritual are shown to make nothing perfect or complete. But the one sacrifice of Christ makes all who are sanctified by it for ever perfect or complete. Now God bears witness to this perfection in two ways.

There is one who bears witness in heaven: Jesus Himself, “after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God. For by one offering he has perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” Then there is another on earth: the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us.

Do you believe this double witness of God? He has taken up the Holy One who died for our sins. Raised for our righteousness or justification, He sits in peaceful proof that the atoning work is done. The Holy Ghost too has been sent down, abiding witness of the perfect place into which we are brought by the blood of Jesus. God says to every believer, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” If I am not a believer, I say; if I have not faith; then I can only stand at a distance, crying for mercy, and hoping to be saved. Sad, sad it is, if the Christian is put by man into that false place.

This is the true place which the Holy Ghost gives to every believer: “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.” This is Christianity, as of God, in contrast with the shadows of ritualism, which could not remove the veil that shut out man from God. Very simple this, but do you believe it? Can you say, By the blood of Jesus I have now boldness within the veil? Can you say, that having such a high priest, as a purged worshipper I need no other? If you cannot, you do not believe in the blood of Jesus, and you do not believe in the priesthood of Christ. All turns, you observe, on this point; if you believe God, the blood of Jesus gives you boldness in the holiest, for His word says so, and you need no other intercessor, for He ever lives to make intercession for you.

Oh! where are you? Can you fall like the one leper at the feet of this holy Jesus, giving Him thanks for thus cleansing and fitting you for the holiest? Or is your back on Him, and your face on ritualism? If so, this brings us to the solemn question, What will be the end of it? Will you read verse 26? “For if we sin wilfully, after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins; but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries.” But, you say, you surely would not apply that to the ritualist? Where is the difference? The Holy Ghost plainly applies this to the Jew who had heard and professed Christianity. To go back to the ritualism of the law, was to sin wilfully. God speaks of such, as having trodden under foot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and done despite to the Spirit of grace.

Now I do believe that this is also the truest possible description of the ritualist of this day — yes, every line of it. The sinning wilfully is what marks its contrast with dark Rome. For the poor Romanist is brought up in total ignorance of Christianity, as described in this chapter of Hebrews. And in the midst of his intercessors and masses and purgatory, he knows no present way into the holiest, but sighs in uncertainty, and, unless God in His mercy prevent, dies in despair. Not so our ritualist of the Reformation. The glorious sound of justification by faith has rung in his ears. And it is not a little remarkable that at the very time that the gospel of God’s righteousness is being proclaimed far and near, the ritualist wilfully rejects it all, and acts over again the Jew of old who draws back to perdition.

I think this paper is being read by a young person, who is attracted by the outward show of ritualism. Mark well, all this is of man’s will, will-worship. It is a way that seems right to man, but the end thereof is judgment and fiery indignation. In the midst of so much light, and to go back to rites, and shadows; if this is not sinning wilfully, what possibly can be?

“He that despised Moses' law died without mercy.” And will you despise the testimony of the Holy Ghost to the blood of Jesus? Will you deny that the just One has died for the unjust to bring us to God? Christianity is the blessed fact that by this death, this one sacrifice, the believer’s sins are forgiven, never to be remembered against him; that he is now, like the leper, a cleansed worshipper in the presence of God, needing no rites or ceremonies, to bring him there. O my reader, is this now your happy position? or do you doubt it, and in practice deny it? If you cling to shadows, your back is on Christ the substance; and you deny the efficacy of the blood of Christ. The Samaritan leper alone gave glory to God. The happy believer who takes this place, as a cleansed worshipper, alone gives glory to God.

But it may be said, are there not crowds drawing back to ritualism and to Rome? Is there not less and less of worship in spirit; and more and more of outward show; each of the so-called reformed churches, pleasing the world, with gothic buildings, and what attracts the natural taste of man? I own the full sad truth of this. And let me ask you; If the despising of the finished work of Christ, and the blessed place of a cleansed worshipper by His blood, brought down the judgments of God on the Jews of old, what may we expect, now England is doing the very same thing? I do solemnly believe that England and Christendom are on the eve of being given up to the strong delusions foretold in 2 Thessalonians 2. Yes, the multitude, who are rejecting the truth of God wilfully, and going back to ritualism, may with certainty look for the judgment, and fiery indignation of God. There is much more hope of a dark Romanist who has never known the truth, than of those who have known it and now deny it, and go back to ritualism. It is the most dreadful position that a soul can be found in. Allured to perdition, by sacred song, and everything that can fascinate the natural mind. Such is Satan’s great success of the day. Do you say, I speak strongly, where is my proof? The proof is plain enough. If you reject the efficacy of the one sacrifice that is for ever perfect, then there remains no other sacrifice for sins. You must be eternally lost. But if you believe and rest in the efficacy of that blood, and thus know that you are for ever perfected, then you cannot be a ritualist. The two things are as opposite as light and darkness. In a word, you cannot have your face on Christ, with the certainty that you are cleansed, without turning your back on ritualism.

I confess I have little hope for those who have thus deliberately trodden under foot the Son of God. But to the wavering, the perplexed, the tempted; may God in His mercy stop you, awaken, and save you. Oh! to meet God now as the lepers met Jesus: to hear His word — to believe it! Are you yet a sinner? Then “Be it known to you … that through this man [Jesus] is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things.” O the mighty principle of this simple, naked faith! God sets before you the death of Jesus for sins; the resurrection, or Jesus risen, for justification. All, all the sinner needs is thus set forth in Jesus. God proclaims sweet pardon to you through this same Jesus. Do you believe God? The leper did not say, That is too easy — I must do, do, DO, first. No. And he did not say, I must feel, feel better. Do you say so? He did not say, No man can tell whether he is cleansed or not did he? Do you say so? He knew it, he turned his back on ritualism. Do you, as a believer, know that you are justified? If you do believe God, then you must know you are justified, because He says so — does He not? Would you say, No man knows whether God speaks truth or not? May God give you that faith in Him that will enable you just now to turn your back on ritualism and your face on Christ — knowing that you are cleansed in His precious blood. May you thus give glory to God with a loud voice! And to the God of all grace be everlasting praise. C.S.