Thoughts on the history of professing Christianity, Part 1

Following our recent series of extracts from chapter 14 of Benjamin Wills Newton’s book, ‘Prospects of the Ten Kingdoms’, which we concluded last week, and the good reception they received, I felt that I would like to feature extracts from the 6th chapter of the book which deals with a matter facing us all today — that of the corruption and apostasy of ‘PROFESSING CHRISTIANITY’ as set forth by the Saviour in His parables in Matthew 13. I am sure that you will find the extracts informative.

Sincerely, Ivan Foster

We continue with extracts from Benjamin Wills Newton’s book, Prospects of the Ten Kingdoms, the chapter 6 — THOUGHTS ON THE HISTORY OF PROFESSING CHRISTIANITY, AS GIVEN IN THE PARABLES OF MATTHEW XIII.

Here is Part 1, which covers pages 148-151.

Click here to see the other articles about this book.

THE subject of the book of Daniel is the secular history of the Gentile Empires in their relation to Jerusalem, and not the history of Christianity. In considering, therefore, the history of Christianity, we deviate from the strict course of this prophecy. But it is a deviation that may be permitted. Not only is the subject in itself unspeakably important, but it is closely connected also with all we have been considering. The full character of evil that attaches to the Roman Empire cannot be understood unless its false relations to Christianity be in some degree appreciated. Moreover, although the ripened evil of Judaism, and of the nations governmentally, will largely contribute towards the final development of Antichristianism, yet it will be aided no less by an apostasy from among professing Christians. Thus also we answer an objection often urged, viz., that by our interpreting the Old Testament prophecies so exclusively of Israel and of the Gentiles, we leave nothing in Scripture that bears directly on Christianity. We show that the Scripture does speak prophetically of Christianity, and of its corruptions.

There are many parts of the New Testament which very distinctly supply the prophetic history of Christianity during the present period-the period, not of its triumph, but of its weakness — a period in the commencement of which it met with hatred and rejection; and then became itself the subject of corruption and decay.

It must not, however, be expected that the moral history of Christianity can be given with the same minuteness as the outward history of kingdoms. Its prophetic history is mainly one of failure and of corruption; but the forms of its corruption are so various, and so widely diffused (for nominal Christianity has extended over nearly a third of the globe), that if all the ways of its evil were detailed, who would be able to read the books that should be written? If some of these forms of evil were noticed, and others passed by in silence, it would be pleaded that those which were unnoticed must be exempted from the condemnatory descriptions. The Scripture avoids these difficulties by making its statements general, and by dwelling not on the specific, but on the generic features of corruption. Every form, therefore, of evil that falls under these general descriptions receives thereby its condemnation.

The germs of the corruptions of Christianity were manifested before the Apostles died; consequently, every word written by the Apostles in condemnation of these early manifestations, remains as a record against them when they reach a more developed form. Besides which, much of the Epistles are prophetic, and professedly describe corruptions then future. The Epistles, therefore, do by themselves supply a large fund of prophetic instruction. But the part of Scripture which most distinctly refers to the corruptions of Christianity in its corporate form is the Gospel of Matthew. The corporate testimony that had been committed to Israel was succeeded by another corporate testimony committed to the professing Church. The setting aside of the one, and the introduction of the other, is one of the especial subjects of the Gospel of Matthew. It speaks of the presentation of the Lord Jesus to Israel, and their corporate rejection of Him both as teacher and King. It records also His solemn rejection of them. It then proceeds to speak of others who should succeed into the place of corporate testimony, but intimates that among them also false profession and corruption would be found. This instruction is generally conveyed in prophetic parables, of which the marriage supper, the wise and foolish virgins, the servants trading with the talents, the sheep and the goats, are examples. All these parables refer to the professing Church.

But the thirteenth chapter affords the most important example. The twelfth chapter records the solemn denunciations of the Lord Jesus against the wickedness of the Jewish teachers, and concludes with the following description of the final condition of unbelieving Israel. “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house whence I came out ; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. EVEN THUS SHALL  IT BE ALSO UNTO THIS WICKED GENERATION.”*

* The word “generation” is frequently applied to the whole family of Israel. Thus, in the Song of Moses, which includes their history for 4,000 years — “And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be : for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith . . .. they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them.” — Deut. xxxii. 20, 28.

One part of this prediction is at this present moment being fulfilled. The Jews are not now in any especial manner inhabited by the energy of evil. They are much as other men; indeed, not unfrequently their characters stand in favourable contrast with those of professing Christians around them. Idolatry, to which they were once peculiarly addicted, seems extirpated from among them. There is much natural kindness, much benevolence displayed by many. One of the leading philanthropists of the day, adored almost by his own nation, and extolled both by Mahomedans and Christians, is a Jew. Thus they are not only freed for a season from that terrible power of evil which once carried them into vile idolatries and other frantic excesses of evil, but they possess much that is amiable and attractive-much that naturally adorns. **

** Their freedom from idolatry is boasted of by the Jews themselves. Thus, in a letter published in the “Jewish Chronicle,” dated November, 1849, it is said: “The principal and greatest sin our forefathers committed against God was idolatry; the wrath of heaven was kindled against them, and the first Temple was destroyed …. Again the Jews sinned, and the second Temple fell in ruins before the Romans’ merciless torch ; the Israelites suffered the penalty of their transgressions. But they are idolaters no longer. In this wide world there is not a people or a class which is freer from idolatry, bigotry, or immorality.”