Thoughts on the history of professing Christianity, Part 5

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 5, which covers pages 165-169.

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The parables of our Lord are addressed chiefly to conscience. If our consciences are perverted we shall either give no heed to the instruction, or else mistake, and probably, reverse the meaning. For example, he who conceives the honour and dignity of this present age to be according to God, and therefore well suited for His Church, will be sure to find in the parable of the “mustard seed” an encouragement to aspire after worldly greatness. He who admires the present condition and influence of professing Christianity, will not be hindered by the mere circumstance of leaven being uniformly used in the Scripture as the type of evil, from interpreting it as the symbol of the diffusiveness and diffusion of good. Parables, if they do not enlighten, blind.*

*  ‘They who object to the interpretation that has been given, would do well to consider whether they can suggest any other. “The kingdom of heaven,” in this series of parables, cannot be interpreted of the millennial kingdom, for there Satan will not be present to steal away the seed, or to sow tares ; nor can it refer to the elect of the present dispensation only, for if they alone were indicated, then tares could not be among them, nor bad fishes as well as good. For the same reason it cannot refer to heaven. Neither can it represent any inward condition of soul ; for neither the parable of the Tares, nor of the Fishes, can have any accomplishment in a believer’s soul. The expression, therefore, as used in this chapter, can refer to one thing only, that is, the Professing Church.

As regards the parable of the Woman spreading Leaven, we cannot suppose that there is inconsistency in the manner in which Scripture employs its emblems. In every other place throughout the Bible, leaven, whenever mentioned, is always used to indicate corruption. It would be strange, therefore, if in this passage it should represent the diffusive power of good. Moreover, it is not true that Christ’s truth spreads throughout the earth in this present Dispensation. It is not to be infused into all nations, nor are their institutions to be transformed thereby. If so, there would not remain at the end of the Dispensation any ten-horned Beast to be “given to the burning flame,” nor any Image to be “ground to powder.”

As regards the application of this parable to a believer’s soul, that is impossible. In the first place it must not be interpreted except in harmony with the rest of the parables with which it stands connected; and they respect a kingdom in which the righteous and the evil are together found, until separated by the angels of God. Moreover, leaven as being the type of evil, cannot represent the new principle of life and righteousness which is implanted in the believer, nor does that principle infuse itself into our old nature. Our old nature ever remains evil, and struggles against the Spirit. A power resisting and bridling evil in us, is a very different thing from that which is so infused, as to bring everything into which it enters into assimilation to itself.’

At this point, the series of parables divides. Those which we have been considering were spoken publicly; those which follow, to the disciples apart. In the former, our minds have been chiefly directed to the power of Satan and of evil in marring the blessings introduced by God; in the latter we learn the goodness of God in interfering to counter-work the power of evil.

In every dispensation hitherto, God has allowed His great enemy to triumph for a season against His truth ; and professing Christianity has exhibited more terrible results of that enemy’s corrupting influence than any sphere in which he has yet acted. But God retains a power of counter-working Satan’s evil. In the previous dispensation, when Israel had buried truth in corruption, He mercifully interfered, and the light kindled in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah was the instrumental means of preserving a remnant, who were witnesses of Truth until the Lord Jesus came. So also in our dispensation: God has been pleased to interfere by what may be termed a secondary action of His grace; and when the darkness was very deep, rekindled a light, the effects of ‘which will be discernible until the Lord Jesus comes in glory. The next parable of “the treasure” directs our thoughts to one of these interferences of God in blessing.

For more than a thousand years after the professing Church had assumed her place of evil preeminence, there was little to counteract her influence: and it spread almost unresisted over the most civilized of the nations of earth, who fed carelessly on her leavened meal. In the sixteenth century the triumph of her evil was so complete that Truth seemed to have perished from the earth. In the east and in the west priestcraft and idolatry, superstition and wickedness reigned, just as much when Christ’s name was mentioned as when it was ignored. But it pleased God to interfere, and into these Western countries — countries, indeed, which the pure Gospel of His grace had never visited — He sent that Gospel, and also His own Holy Word.

The doctrine of justification by faith alone — that doctrine which Popery hates, still teaching that they who hold it “are accursed,” was the centre-truth of the Reformation. It made the love of God in the sacrifice of His Son the one object of saving faith. It presented as the refuge of a sinner’s soul the living love of God and of Christ, instead of dead ritual ordinances — ordinances, which (even if they had been appointed to that end, which they never were) would have been powerless in the hands of those who were not the Church of God at all, but the ministers of Satan. The power of the Reformation, therefore, was in owning this doctrine, and in owning it practically: in maintaining the title of all who had believed to be regarded as the Church of the living God: but in denying the title of fellowship in that body to all who rested their claim on mere ritual ordinances, whilst they showed both in doctrine and in practice, that they were strangers to the Gospel of Christ.

The Reformation, however, would have failed in producing any alteration in the visible aspect of Christianity, unless the Reformers had been led to discern, in the light of the word of God, the real condition of the professing Church. They, like others, had long conceived it to be their duty to own as the Church, that which professed itself to be the Church. They had therefore served the woman who had mingled leaven with her meal. They had sanctioned her position, had aided in dispensing her corruptions, and had owned all her ministrations. For a long time, even Luther feared wholly to reject her claim, and shrunk from saying, that they who showed that they had received and been sanctified by the Truth were the only Church which God recognised for blessing. But when the eyes of the Reformers were at last opened to discern the fearfulness of their error in having ascribed the attributes and functions of the Church of the living God to a body that was efficiently serving the god of this world, they turned away from that synagogue of Satan, denounced its ordinances, rejected its authority, retired from within its confines, and learned for the first time practically to distinguish the real Church for which Christ died, from that false body which had usurped her functions.