Thoughts on the history of professing Christianity, Part 3

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.

I would commend a close reading of these extracts for they deal with the very issue of ‘decay within Christendom’ that we see all around.

Here is Part 3, which covers end of page 156-160.

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The introduction of false professors greatly, of course, affected the appearance which the Church presented to the world. A field intermingled with tares cannot appear as one in which wheat only grows. The loveliness of its aspect must be gone. Nevertheless, the corporate standing of the Churches was not thereby forfeited. They were still regarded by the Lord as worthy of being represented before Him by their original and proper symbol — “candlesticks of gold.” The steadfastness even of individual saints, although endangered, was not necessarily destroyed by the approximation of evil, however near. Neither was the executive agency of the Churches necessarily perverted ; and· it is by the acts of its executive that the character of every corporate body is determined. Holy discipline might have been exercised.

There were still means whereby the evil might have been met, so as for the claims of holiness to have been answered, and the standing of the Churches preserved. Accordingly, the Epistle of Jude (which was one of the last admonitions which the Spirit of God addressed to the Churches) whilst it fully recognises the introduction of these tares, does not speak as if there were no hope. On the contrary, it exhorts the faithful to strengthen themselves, to be mindful of their own spiritual health, to build themselves up in their most holy faith, that so, as in the natural body, when the energies of remaining health are strengthened, there might be power to conflict with and throw off disease. If the spiritual had obeyed this commandment, the others would either have been put away, or have separated themselves and gone away; or would in some manner have succumbed to the faithfulness and holy zeal of those who feared God. But these last commandments were, as others, not obeyed. The people of God did not strengthen themselves. They did not set themselves against these intruders. Instead of repressing, they cherished them, so that the Apostles had scarcely died, when false professors so increased in numbers and in power, that the executive government of the Churches fell almost entirely into their hands.*

*Although St. Paul so imperatively enforces the exercise of church-discipline in I Cor. v., yet the parable of the tares is often quoted as if it forbade discipline. All that the parable forbids is such a mode of separating from the Church as would be a putting out of the earth. It forbids that kind of separation which it belongs only to the holy angels to effect when the Lord comes. It is not for us to take the sword of destruction.No doubt tares would have remained in the Churches even if discipline had been faithfully exercised. But the Church would not have been condemned for that, seeing that they are only expected to deal with ostensible and proved contrariety to the doctrines and ways of Christ. But they have sanctioned and retained proved evil that has not been repented of; and it has ended in their not seeing evil, even where it most palpably exists.

This sealed the ruin of professing Christianity. The doctrines of Christ, and the order of His Church, were thus subjected to the will of evil and unconverted men, whose object was, not to be the servants of God, but to command influence, by pleasing men. The truths of Christ were modified and altered, so as to be moulded into adaptation to the minds and tastes of the world.

There was no longer any simple testimony to the fulness of God’s grace in the blood of the Lamb. The great truth that we are justified and saved simply and only on the ground of the meritoriousness of another being imputed to us was repudiated. The believing people of God were not taught respecting their union with the Lord Jesus in the heavens, nor the sureness of their inheritance there, and therefore were not strengthened to rise above the attractiveness of circumstances below. Nor, indeed, did many desire it. The path of the Lord Jesus in humiliation was no longer regarded as one desirable for the Church to follow. They saw something more attractive in :flourishing as the green bay tree, than in being as “a root out of a dry ground, having no form or comeliness.” It was found far more profitable to gratify men than to please God.

It was not wonderful, when the distinctive truths of Christianity were thus either discarded or adulterated, that the heads of the Roman Empire should no longer despise a system which they saw to be possessed of moral influence, and therefore capable of being advantageously used in the government of men. Accordingly, in the fourth century, the Empire of Rome and the Church united. The Courts of Caesar indeed, had not changed their character or become like the little upper chamber in Jerusalem, where the lowly Church, small as the “grain of mustard seed,” first congregated. It was the Church, not the world, that bad changed. The so-called servants of Christ had long forsaken that chamber, and coveted the honour of kings’ courts: and God caused it to be given them. He gave Saul to Israel; and He gave a worse than Saul to that fallen body that still arrogated to itself the name of Church.

It was no wonder that, under such circumstances, the so-called Church should become great in the earth-so great, that the very emblem employed in Scripture to denote the imperial greatness of the Gentile kingdoms-the emblem of a fair and widespreading tree, should become applicable to her. The greatness of Nebuchadnezzar and of the Gentile Empires, of which he was the head, is represented by a tree “which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth.” Dan. iv. 20. The Church could now be represented by a kindred symbol. Though little as the “mustard seed” once, it had grown, and become a tree, so as for “the birds of the air to lodge in the branches thereof.” *

* As soon as the Church became linked to the Roman Empire, the glory of the nations being given to it, was mistaken for the glory of Christ’s coming kingdom. The great ecclesiastical structures of the Gentiles, in which idolatry or worldliness are hallowed, still bear the once despised names of Peter and Paul.