HAS CHRISTIANITY FAILED?

 

By

 

G. H. LANG.

 

THE ANSWER DEPENDS, OF COURSE, UPON WHAT CHRISTIANITY was designed by its Founder to accomplish.

 

But what is meant by "Christianity"? If the meaning assigned be that of a vast visible, organized system of religion, such as the great Confederated Church which developed in the second and third centuries after Christ, became the State religion under Constantine, and is now represented by the ecclesiastical systems into which it broke up, such as the Roman Catholic, the Greek Orthodox, or one of the many Reformed State Churches, or the incorporated Nonconformist bodies - if such a visible ecclesiastical Society be "Christianity," then we have but to remark that no such religious system was instituted or intended by the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore we have but little interest in the question whether such have "failed" or otherwise. "For though it is indisputable that our Lord founded a church, it is an unproved assumption that that Church is an aggregation of visible and Organized societies " (Dr. E. Hatch, The Organization of the Early Christian Churches, Pref. 12).

 

This clears our question of a great mass of confusing and irrelevant matter. Neither possible benefits nor actual miseries resulting from these great organized systems of religion have anything to do with the success or failure of the church that Christ instituted, for they are not that church. In all of these miscalled "Christian" systems there are members of that true church which Christ is building, but the systems as such do not belong thereto. This will be seen clearly when at last the true church of God is seen in its heavenly state as designed by its Founder, for then all of these systems will have disappeared. It is a working of that crafty Enemy, some of whose skilful activities we have noticed, that the name of Christ has been attached to organized systems of religion, and so in many minds He has been held responsible for what is not of Him, indeed often utterly contrary to Him; in fact His holy name has been attached to much hellish work by His very Enemy.

 

The statement by Christ "I will build My church" is connected with the immediately preceding confession by the apostles that Jesus is "the Messiah, the Son of the living God." This perception of the divine person of Jesus can be gained only by a definite revelation of this fact by the Father of Jesus, and it must be received individually (Matthew 16: 13-20). Therefore only those persons who receive and act upon this revelation, and who from their hearts, and in practice, accord to Christ the honour due to Him as being the Son of God, are built into and form His church. It follows that some classes of persons, such as infants, imbeciles, and moral living heathen who have never heard of Christ, are not part of His church. This does not mean that such are necessarily to be lost for ever, for other factors enter into that question, but as they have not known and confessed Christ to be the Son of God [or God the Son] they are not of that society which is built upon that confession as a building upon a rock.

 

There is no uncharitableness in recognizing the obvious fact that the vast majority who form the organized Systems mentioned do not guide life by the principle of owning, by practical obedience to His precepts, that Jesus is the Son of God. The very Systems themselves, in varying degrees, disregard His revealed will as to the nature and conduct of His house, the church of God. Their differing form and their rules are all too largely based on what man thinks expedient in religion, not upon what Christ, as Son of God, ordained, as stated in His Word.

 

Therefore the true church of God on earth is composed of such individuals as know and own Jesus as the Son of God. Of these there is no visible universal society. They can only be recognized as individuals, the sign being that they study to obey (however imperfectly as yet) the precepts of Christ, and to walk by His Spirit. In any locality where some of them may live they will meet together to worship God and to strengthen each other in faith and obedience. Such as do thus meet form "a church of God" in that place: beyond this there is nothing corporate that man can discern. I speak of what is the mind of Christ about this church as stated in His Word.

 

A feature very material for the present discussion now emerges, namely, that the church of God, whether invisible and universal, or local and visible, is only a portion of mankind. This indeed is involved in the very idea of the word "church" (ecclesia), which describes a company of persons called together, not the whole mass of people. Thus in the Greek translation of the Old Testament the word is applied to the people of Israel when gathered together: they were the "assembly of Jehovah" in contrast to the other nations of the earth who were not His people and were not summoned to His assemblies.

 

It is the same with the church, or assembly, of God to-day. The New Testament nowhere contemplates it as anything but a portion of mankind, and a small portion. As Christ said to His followers: "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12: 32). Therefore on the day of Pentecost His apostle did not offer the hope that all Israel would become "Christian," but cried to individuals in the words "Save yourselves from this crooked generation" (Acts 2: 40). And on a later occasion another apostle said: "God visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name" (Acts 15 : 14).

 

This last statement is illuminating. James continued by declaring four stages in the purposes of God.

 

(1) "After these things" - that is, after the just before-mentioned out-gathering of the people for the name of God;

 

(2) "I will return" - that personal return of the Lord Jesus considered in the preceding chapter;

 

(3) And I will build again the tent of David, which is When,

And I will build again the ruins thereof, And I will set it up:- that before-discussed restoration of world sovereignty to the family of David and his people Israel. The question here is not the building of that new society, the church, but of rebuilding the ruins of something old, the house of David.

 

(4) That the residue of men may seek after the Lord,

 

And all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called saith. the Lord, who maketh these things known from of old.

 

Nothing surely can be clearer than that (1) the present work of God, the preaching of the gospel, is not intended by Him to effect the conversion of the whole race of mankind, but is designed to gather out from all the earth a limited company who are to bear His name, that is, to be known as His; (2) that this work being presently completed, the Lord will return to the earth and will restore the people and kingdom of Israel; and (3) that then is the period when all the nations will seek God and will enjoy His blessing.

 

James said that these things had been made known by God of old, that the prophets agreed with his view, which is fact.

 

Deuteronomy 32. Moses had described in moving terms the rebellion and chastisement of Israel which the centuries to follow his day should see, but he assured them that-

 

Jehovah will judge his people,

And repent himself for [that is, in favour of] his servants (ver. 36),

will render vengeance to His adversaries who had oppressed His people.

Then, after the description of this deliverance, comes the call:

Rejoice, O ye nations with his people.

 

It is not that Israel are to be merged with the nations into the church of God, but that the nations are to join Moses's people, God's people, Israel, in their rejoicing.

 

Psalm 22 gives first that pathetic account of the redeeming death of Messiah which has been before considered. Then at verse 22 Messiah is pictured as leading the praise of God in the midst of His brethren, the assembly. This verse is shown by Hebrews 2: 10-12 to apply to the many sons God is now bringing unto the glory already the portion of His Son, that is, to the church of God. Then verse 23 calls upon the seed of Jacob and Israel to praise and glorify their God; and, lastly (verse 27):

 

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto Jehovah and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is Jehovah's; and he is the ruler over the nations.

 

Isaiah 53, 54, 55. The same order rules these chapters. Chapter 53 is again a description of the rejection and death of the sin-bearing Messiah: ch. 54 is a call to Israel to forget her widowhood as cast off by her God, and to resume union with her Maker as her husband (verses 4, 5); and ch. 55 extends the call of grace to "eveyone that thirsteth," for the world at large can enjoy the sure mercies guaranteed to David the king of Israel, for God has given him to be a witness and commander to all peoples (verses 3-5).

 

Psalm 67 is very distinctly marked by the same order of events.

 

God be merciful unto us, and bless us [Israel],

And cause his face to shine upon us;

That thy way may be known upon earth,

Thy saving health to all nations ...

God, even our own God, will bless us [Israel].

God will bless us;

And all the ends of the earth shall fear him.

 

The idea that the business of the church of God is to save all the world, to remedy all social ills, to set up the kingdom of God on earth, is utterly foreign to the Word of God. It is a human invention. Therefore as this work, or anything of its nature, was not committed by Christ to His servants, that they have not accomplished it argues no failure on their part. That their message and example have been the chief ameliorating influence in human life we have before shown, and this is an incidental testimony to the divine Person whose message they transmit; but the extending of this amelioration to an universal cure of earth's griefs was never their appointed work. This work has been the gathering out from mankind of that people, limited in number, of whom James spoke as above quoted. In this work Christ's servants have succeeded; wherever the message has gone some have heeded and have turned the back on the old life, and the old sphere of life, human society as without God; but the many have not done So. Thus judged "Christianity" has not failed, but has succeeded; it has served the purpose of its Founder.

 

This raises the question proposed above, even the part in the plans of God to be taken by this limited company, the church. Why is this the Divine objective of this age? Why is universal blessing deferred to the next age?

 

The answer is simple. The establishing of a great empire upon what has been hostile territory lately conquered, and its consequent permanent administration, demands a large body of trained and qualified officials, having full knowledge of the purposes of their Sovereign, and of the means by which they are to be served, and with enthusiastic devotion to His ends. Every great leader will train such men in advance of the actual conquest, so that they shall be at hand immediately the hour strikes. This is what God is now doing; this is His purpose for this selected company, the church.

 

With this high end in view they are put through a severe school of discipline of character, to train them to feel and to act like their King, and thus be qualified to co-operate with Him in His coming day.

 

Another aspect of this purpose is that those who in this age love Christ well enough, to share His present rejection by the majority of men will, in that coming age, be recompensed by sharing His glory in His [millennial] kingdom.

 

A third element of the matter is as follows. There exists a government of the universe conducted by great angels and their subordinates. Many of these have fallen from their original allegiance to God and prostitute their offices and powers to corrupt His realms. It is therefore inevitable that a re-arrangement shall come in that heavenly government. This will be effected by Christ and His glorified followers being invested with the whole of that heavenly authority. For it is written that "not unto angels hath God subjected the inhabited earth to come (Hebrews 2: 5).

 

This grand investiture was shown in vision to the prophet Daniel five centuries B.C.. He saw a session of that heavenly court whose proceedings we have already considered. Before the Supreme judge, the Ancient of Days, there was presented "one like unto a son of man," to whom was given universal and everlasting dominion (verses 9-14).

 

About the year A.D. 90 John was shown that same scene, with ampler details (Revelation 4 and 5). The One formerly "like unto a son of man" had now become truly man, the Man Christ Jesus, being now both the Lamb that had been slain, the Lion of Judah, and the Root out of which David the king of Israel had grown, to whom of old the government had been promised, as we have seen.

 

That Christ did not receive this formal investiture at His ascension is certain.

 

The angel explained to Daniel (7: 26, 27) that the assize in question would sit to take away the dominion of the Beast (the last world Emperor, Antichtist) and consume it completely. Inasmuch as the Beast has not even yet arisen, it is clear that the judgment assize in question has not yet come and has not yet acted, and therefore the Son of Man is not yet invested with authority. It is His by gift and title, but He is not yet in possession.

 

This is confirmed by the fact that John (Revelation 4: 1) was shown this royal occasion as still future some fifty or sixty years after Christ had ascended to the throne of the Father.

 

About 1,000 years B.C. David was inspired to write these words:

 

Jehovah said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand,

Until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

Jehovah will send forth the rod of thy strength out of Zion:

Rule thou in the midst of thy enemies.

(Psalm 110.)

 

Christ endorsed the current Jewish application of this to the Messiah (Matthew 22: 41-45), and therefore to Himself, for He accepted as true Peter's confession of Himself as being the Messiah, the Son of God (Matthew 16: 16, 17). In Hebrews 1: 3, 13; 10: 13 this psalm is again applied to Christ and as a present attitude, which means that perhaps thirty years after the ascension Christ was still waiting for the time when His enemies should be subjected to Him. Nor has this time and event arrived till now, for some of His avowed enemies are in power to-day as in Russia, England and elsewhere.

 

Until that day shall have come it is the Ancient of Days who administers the universe through His angel princes and judges. The chief present concern of Christ is the safeguarding, as their Priest-Advocate in that Supreme Court, the interests of the company, His church, who are being gathered and trained for service in His day, and this is also their present concern, in fellowship with Him "For God hath called us into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Corinthians 1: 9). Therefore not till their Sovereign takes over the work of governing should they do so. As long as He is rejected from the affairs of nations they accept the same position and its consequences, waiting, as He is waiting, for the day when God shall bruise Satan under their feet as under His (Romans 16: 20; Genesis 3: 15). Thus did Paul explain matters in 1 Corinthians 4: 5-13.

 

Therefore when men find that consistent followers of Christ will not join in their affairs corporate they ought not to think it indifference or hostility. Christ and the instructed Christian are deeply interested in the welfare of every man and of the earth at large, only it is not yet their time for active intervention in these public affairs. While their Lord is rejected they know and feel themselves to be apart in spirit from this present age. They are sure from Scripture that human nature is irremediable and human problems insoluble apart from Christ. Their business is to offer to men the free pardon of the God they have neglected or even defied, to assure every man that God delights to meet every man with grace. Now no ambassador sent by his sovereign with a message of peace is at the same time sent with orders to fight the enemy, nor is authorized to accept the office of judge or ruler in the enemy country. If he would commend the grace of his king he must act on that footing alone. If the overtures of peace be spurned, then the ambassador may be commissioned to act as a soldier to fight or a judge to punish, but he ceases then to be an ambassador of peace. And even among men it is considered the extreme of insult and outrage that an ambassador should be ill-treated. Yet the ambassadors of the King of kings have been all too often outraged and killed, which will count heavily in the judgment inflicted at last by their Sovereign on His enemies, as also in the reward that the wronged messengers of peace will receive.

 

All authority vests in the Son of God by appointment of His Father. This has always been so. It is the uniform testimony of Scripture (Hebrews 1: 2; John 3: 35; 5: 22; 13: 3; Matthew 28: 18 ; Ephesians 1: 20-22; 1 Peter 3: 22). But upon becoming a man, though remaining the Prince of life and the Lord of glory (Acts 3: 15; 1 Corinthians 2: 8), He voluntarily divested Himself of these prerogatives (Philippians 2: 5 -11). Man is not entitled to a seat on the throne of God. Yet it is as man that Christ is there. How is this? It is because the Father has recompensed His fidelity, obedience, and suffering as man by restoring to Him as man the offices and glories He renounced to become man. The following inspired statements declare this:

 

Isaiah 53:12. God through the prophet said in advance:

 

Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.

 

Philippians 2: 8-11. An apostle explains that Christ,

 

being found in fashion as a man humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name that is above every name, that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Hebrews 2. This writer points out from Psalm 8, which is based on Genesis 1: 26-28, that from the beginning God declared His intention that man should have dominion over all things. But he further observes that as yet this is not so. Indeed, it is not; for man lost his dominion when the Devil attacked and conquered him; but nevertheless, adds the writer, we do see this purpose of God in process of fulfilment in one representative man; "we behold Jesus crowned with glory and honour," and so crowned because of the suffering of death" (verse 9).

 

Revelation 5: 11, 12. With this the assembled hosts of heaven are in fullest accord. They cry with a great voice, Worthy is the Lamb that bath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honour, and glory, and blessing.

 

The whole resources of the universe and of God are rightly His.

 

The foregoing programme is confirmed as the teaching of the Word of God by the following further passages. They show that for the people of Christ as for Him the prospect, and the condition for sharing it, are the same.

 

Luke 22: 28-30. To certain of the faithful of His followers the Lord said:

 

Ye are they who have continued with me in my temptations; and I appoint unto you a kingdom, even as my Father appointed unto me, that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and ye shall sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

 

Romans 8: 16-18. Paul suffered for the cause of Christ more than most. He showed how powerful is the incentive of this prospect by writing:

 

The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit that we are children Of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs indeed (men) of God, but (de) joint-heirs with Messiah, if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.

 

2 Timothy 2: 9-13. Again, at the close of his Christian conflict, he wrote:

 

I suffer hardship unto bonds, [treated] as a criminal. Faithful is the saying:

For if we died with him,

we shall also live with him:

If we endure,

we shall also reign with him:

If we shall deny him,'

he also will deny us .

If we are faithless,

he abideth faithful,

for he cannot deny himself.

 

To live with Christ means to share His place and glory, which is far more than eternal life in Christ by faith. Nor does Paul here attach this grand hope to the fact that Christ died for us, though truly it is the basis of every blessing: but he makes it to follow and to depend upon the believer dying with Christ. Notice the double "if " "if we died ... if we endure."

 

Revelation 3: 21. This correspondence between the Leader and the follower the glorified Lord Himself emphasized by promising that

 

he that overcometh [literally, the one overcoming, in contrast to those who may be defeated in the battles of the Lord], I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame [conquered], and sat down with my Father in his throne.

 

To take these, and many other statements to the like effect, as meaning only that a believer in Christ is pardoned, justified, and has eternal life in Christ, being therefore eternally free from the wrath of God, is to nullify their sense, their urgency, their incentive. Eternal life is the "free" [unconditional] gift of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6: 23). These rich rewards are also a gift in Christ, but are conditional gifts, are prizes; provided, indeed, by the Giver of the prizes without cost to the winner, save only the cost of running well to the end of the race, of fighting faithfully till the campaign is crowned and closed by victory. Therefore said Paul as he reviewed his life at its close:

 

I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day; and not to me only, but also to all them that have loved his appearing (2 Timothy 4: 6-8).

 

Let each of us follow him, as he followed Christ, and as he exhorted Timothy, his younger fellow-soldier to do, saying,

 

Suffer hardship with me as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No soldier on service entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who enrolled him as a soldier (2 Timothy 2: 3, 4).

 

Affairs of this life no one can wholly avoid; but barbed-wire entanglements are dangerous to the soldier.

 

To gain that prize I toward that goal will struggle

Which God bath set before;

To gain that prize 'gainst sin and death I'll battle

And with the world make war:

And if it brings me here but shame and troubles And scorn, if pain life fills,

Yet seek I nothing of earth's empty baubles

My God alone my longing stills.

To gain that prize, to reach that crown I'm pressing

Which Christ doth ready hold;

I mean His great reward to be possessing,

His booty for the bold.

I will not rest, no weariness shall stay me,

To hasten home is best,

Where I some day in peace and joy shall lay me

Upon my Saviour's heart and rest.

(From the German.)