Thoughts on the history of professing Christianity, Part 4

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 4, which covers pages 160-165.

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But it may be asked, Why should not the “mustard seed” grow ? Does it not in growing, merely fulfil the law of its nature? Why then may not the Church, which like its Master is well suited to rule, and to rule supremely, why should it not rise into greatness here? The answer is, Because of the character of this present age. So long as it pleases God to permit that Satan should continue the “prince of this world;” “the ruler of the darkness of this present age,” so long must it be true that Christ’s kingdom “is not from hence,” and therefore abasement, not “the reigning as kings,” must now be the characteristics of His servants on the earth. It is a question of time. Accordingly, every principle given to the Church in its present standing below, must necessarily check its growth as to all that could promote its exaltation in the earth. The taking up our cross daily and so losing our lives in this world, the spending and being spent for others, the following Jesus of Nazareth, are principles sufficient to deprive the Church, while it adheres to them, of all governmental influence now. Besides which, the active agency of Satan is against those who really cleave to the Truth of Christ. No wonder, therefore, that they should be blighted; no wonder· that in their measure, they · should be like Him, who, although He was indeed a tender plant, worthy of being cherished under every kindly influence, yet flourished not in the earth, but was “as a root out of a dry ground.” No plant that remains in the spot where God’s Truth would keep it, can flourish here. The nourishment that God gives is for the new creation-heavenly, and not of earth. If therefore it do flourish here, it can only be by having been transplanted into other circumstances, where “the prince of this world” can foster and direct its growth, and use it when grown, for his own purposes of evil.

That the Church in the fourth century did attain to greatness in the earth, is a fact that cannot be disputed. It is equally plain that that greatness was neither held, nor exercised according to God. Intoxicated by their exaltation, they began to speak and to write as if the Millennium were already come; and appropriated to themselves not only the national blessings of Israel in the latter day, but even the descriptions of the New Jerusalem.*

* When Heathenism had been cast down from its supremacy, and Christianity established in the Roman World, the changes consequent were immense and universal. Now, throughout its vast extent, the cross, once so despised, was everywhere in honour, and the preserving and conquering virtue celebrated that everywhere attended it. Now, the righteousness of the slaughtered martyrs that had been gathered under the altar was acknowledged in public edicts, and the living confessors restored to their homes in triumph from the mines and· dungeons where they were suffering. Now, instead of vaults and catacombs for the sacred assemblies of Christians, and other hiding places shut out from the light of heaven, to which, like their earlier Christian brethren, they had been reduced during the late persecution, there arose in the cities and towns churches of magnificence, and the ritual was celebrated with a pomp corresponding. Now, instead of desertions and apostasies from the Christian body, such as had been the case with not a few under the fiery trial, the daily accessions to it were innumerable. Candidates in throngs applied for baptism; and at the Easter and Pentecostal festivals, the newly-baptised Neophytes, in their white vestments, grouped conspicuous around each Christian sanctuary. Now, moreover, under Imperial auspices, the Christian professing Church Catholic was gathered for the first time in Ecumenical Council. Representatives attended from every province, and nation, and tongue in the vast empire. The palace gates were thrown open to the holy delegates. The emperor bowed in respectful deference before them. If in the use of his power he was to the Church as a nursing father, his behaviour was respectful as that of a son. Can we wonder then at the exultation that was felt at this time by many, perhaps by most that bore the Christian name, or at their high-raised expectations as to the future happy destiny of the Roman, now that it had been changed into the Christian nation? It seemed to them as if it had become God’s covenanted people, like Israel of old; and the expectation was not unnatural — an expectation strengthened by the remarkable tranquillity which, throughout the extent of the now re-united empire, followed almost immediately on Constantine’s establishment of Christianity — that not only the temporal blessings of the ancient Jewish covenant would henceforth in no small measure attach to them, but even those prophesied of as appertaining to the latter day. Hence on the medals of that era the emblems of the phoenix, all radiant with the rising sunbeams, to represent the empire as now risen into new life and hope, and its legend, which spoke of the happy restoration of the times. Hence, in forgetfulness of all former prognostications of Antichrist and fearful coming evils, the reference by some of the most eminent of their bishops to their latter-day blessedness, as even then about fulfilling. The state of things was such, Eusebius tells us, that it looked like the very image of the kingdom of Christ. The city built by the emperor at Jerusalem, beside the new and magnificent church of the Holy Sepulchre — the sacred capital, as it were, to the new empire — might be perhaps, he suggested, the new Jerusalem, the theme of so many prophecies. Yet again, on occasion of the opening of the new church at Tyre, he expressed in the following glowing language, not his own feelings only, but those, we may be sure, of not a few of the congregated Christian ministers and people who heard him: “What so many of the Lord’s saints and confessors before our time desired to see and saw not, and to hear and heard not, that behold now before our eyes ! It was of us the prophet spake when he told how the wilderness and the solitary place should· be glad, and the desert rejoice and blossom as the lily. Whereas the church was widowed and desolate, her children have now to exclaim to her, ‘Make room! Enlarge thy borders! The place is too strait for us!’ The promise is fulfilling to her, — in righteousness shalt thou be established: all thy children shall be taught of God: and great shall be the peace of thy children.” -Elliott’s Hora Apocalyptice.

As the influence of the Church increased (and it increased rapidly during the fourth and fifth centuries), so it became more and more the corrupter of truth, until in the seventh century the establishment of Popery in the West, and similar corruptions in the East, set Christianity in a position which the next parable too truly delineates. It is likened unto leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened.

It cannot be denied by any who take Holy Scripture as the test, that the doctrines and practices or the professing Church had, at the period of which we speak, become like leaven, corrupt and corrupting. She had indeed “meal” also. She had not renounced all the good and wholesome truths of God. She could boast of her creeds. Abstractedly she acknowledged, and her lips recited many holy and precious verities which were as meal — wholesome and good food: but she had leaven too, and this leaven she infused into all her meal, until the whole became a poisoned and corrupted mass. This she dispensed; this she dealt ·out to all who came to her for food. There are countries, such as America and India, which have received their influences from Christianity since it occupied this exalted but evil place. Have they been fed with fine wheat, or have they eaten of this leavened meal? Have the pure doctrines of Christ been disseminated there, or do falsehood and idolatry and worldliness reign under the shelter of that which professes to be the spouse of Christ? I speak not of what holy individuals may have done. I speak of the corporate action of professing Christianity on the wide world.