Soon after the formation of the Church as God's light-bearer upon earth (see Rev. 2-3) the beginnings of departure from God, and the introduction of what was of man began to show themselves. As the body of Christ formed by the Holy Ghost, and united to the living Head in heaven, the Church is the workmanship of God, perfect and complete, beyond the reach of men and demons. But as God's dwelling-place on earth (I Cor. 3:16), and His testimony in a ruined world (I Tim. 3:15), gathered and administered by human instrumentality (I Cor. 3:10-14), it is liable to decay and corruption. And as in all former dispensations man has failed, so in the present age he fails also.
Christianity very soon after its establishment in the world, became the object of Satan's hatred, as its Founder, the Lord Jesus had been, while here upon earth. First by persecution, he sought to obliterate it from the world, and when this failed, he betook himself to its corruption. As our Lord foretold in the parable, the enemy, when he could not hinder the growth of part of the good seed as he at first had sought to do Matt. 13:19), next sowed tares among the wheat, and thus corrupted the field (Matt. 13:25-38).
The history of Christianity as given in the New Testament shows
how sadly this has been fulfilled, and by what means the enemy has accomplished
his work. Sad as the picture is, it is needful for us to look at it narrowly,
so that we may know the enemy's tactics, and not be ignorant of his devices,
for the thing that hath been, is that which shall be, and here as elsewhere, "there
is no new thing under the sun" (Eccl. 1:9).
In the infant Church at Jerusalem, while yet the memories of Pentecost were present, there were deceivers (Acts 5:2), and murmurers (Acts 6:1).
In the Galatian Churches, Judiasing teachers sought by the introduction of their leavening doctrines, to lead those who had been saved by grace, back to the bondage of law, bewitching them with their words, and preaching another Gospel (Gal. 1:8; 3:1; 5:7-9).
At Colosse, philosophy, rationalism, and worldliness were beguiling the saints (Col. 2:8-20).
At Corinth (I Cor. 1:10), sectarian divisions were manifesting themselves, and gloried in by some; evil practices were looked at with complacency by others (Chap. 5:1), and the saints generally were carnal (Chap. 3:1).
Paul forewarned the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:29), that "grievous wolves" from without, would seek to devour the flock, and perverse men, from within, would seek to lead away the disciples of the Lord after themselves. "The mystery of iniquity" was secretly working even in the apostle's day (2 Thess. 2:7), and in his last letter, written to his son Timothy, shortly before his death, he tells him of still greater evils spreading themselves abroad, among those who professed the Christian name, and of evil men and seducers waxing worse and worse (2 Tim. 3:13). The Apostle John tells us, that in his day also, there were many apostates and antichrists, denying the Father and the Son (I John 2:18-19). The messages to the Seven Churches of Asia (Rev. 2-3) tell, how departure alike in doctrine and practice, with the presence of evil men and principles, characterized these churches, which were doubtless representative of the rest. All these combine to show, that Christendom, or that which bears the Name of Christ on earth, will steadily increase in departure from God and His Word, by inward corruption—as symbolized in the woman hiding the leaven in the meal (Matt. 13:33), which wrought in secret, yet made sure progression, until her own food had become a leavened mass (Gal. 5:9), and in outward conformity to the world, as symbolized by the mingled field of wheat and tares.
Ecclesiastical corruption and worldly greatness are symbolized in the great tree affording lodging and protection to the fowls of the air—the former enemies of the truth (compare Matt. 13:32 with 4)—a huge worldly system, partly political and partly religious, which in our day is well represented by State Churches, with their endowments and lordly Prelates, with Kings and Emperors as their heads and supreme rulers. But while the corruption and apostasy of Christendom increases and shall increase, it cannot reach its height while the true saints of God, indwelt by the Spirit, are upon earth. The presence of so many of God's people here as "the salt of the earth," preserves it from entire corruption: they cannot hinder, but they do retard its progress. There is a restraining power [*Note 1] still on earth (2 Thess. 2:6-7), and while this continues, the full apostasy of Christendom, and the manifestation of Antichrist, cannot take place. Indeed, the saints of this present time will not be here when the climax is reached, for like Enoch their prototype, they shall be "translated" ere the world's iniquity reaches its full measure, and Divine judgment falls upon it from heaven. This translation will be at the coming of the Lord to the air, and our gathering together unto Him (2 Thess. 2:1). Then the salt will be gone from the earth, and it will soon go to corruption. The light will be gone from the world, and it will be left in darkness.
The Holy Ghost will no longer be present working as He now is, convicting the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, and witnessing through the saints for Christ. So that the pent up streams of ungodliness will then flow out unhindered, bearing everything on their bosom. Every vestige of real Christianity will then be gone from the world, and it will take very little to blot out its memory from the earth altogether.
Immediately after the saints have been caught up to be with the Lord in heaven, corruption and apostasy in that which may still bear Christ's Name, will speedily reach its climax. The testimony of Scripture on this is so full and clear, that it is a wonder how any Christian can mistake it. Yet, alas! many who hold honoured places as teachers and leaders in the Churches, have mistaken the teaching of Scripture, and substituted a theory of their own directly the opposite, instead.
The popular creed of Christendom—chiefly based on a misinterpretation of parabolic and symbolic Scriptures—is that Christianity as it now exists in the world, will gradually work its way, diffusing its influence among the nations of the earth, as leaven works in meal, until the whole is leavened. And this is made to mean that every nation, people and tongue, shall thus be brought to own Christ as their Lord and King. If this were the true interpretation of the parable (Matt. 13:33), and if other Scriptures bore witness to the world's conversion, by means of the testimony and influence of the professing church, every Christian's heart would rejoice. But we are not taught to look for the world's conversion: nor are we told in Scripture that what now bears Christ's Name upon earth, is to go on increasing in purity, spiritual power, and holy influence, until, as poets have sung, and seers predicted, the nations of the earth shall be brought to bow before it, and the knowledge of the Lord cover the earth, as the waters covers the sea. We read nowhere in God's Book of any such future for the earth to be brought about by the church's influence, but, on the contrary, we are told in the Word of the Lord, that professing Christianity, which almost from the its beginning was corrupted by false doctrines and worldly practices, shall continue to wax worse and worse, until finally disowned by God altogether, it is destroyed by the "beast," or secular power. How different would the attitude of many of God's people be towards it, did they but take their estimate of it from the Word of God, and not from the theories and fables of men! The true place of the Christian's testimony and influence, is in separation from all this gigantic Babel of worldly religion, and Satanic delusion. His place is "without the camp" with a rejected Christ.
The last view that Scripture gives of corrupted Christianity is under the symbol of a shameless drunken women, decked in scarlet and pearls, seated on a wild beast, with a cup in her hand full of all abominations, and ministering to the vilest passions of men. Her name is stamped upon her forehead "Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and abominations of the earth." This has been explained as Popery. And the horns that grow out of the beast's head are, by many made to be Popery also. But this is merely playing with symbolic Scripture. How ran the beast, and his rider, and his ten horns, all mean one and the same thing? The beast is undoubtedly the Roman empire of the future, the ten horns the ten Kings or Kingdoms composing that empire, and the woman who is upheld and sustained by the beast, is corrupt and Apostate Christianity in its final stage, in association with and supported by the secular power, and will include within it all and every shade of the corrupt mass of Christless profession, Papal and Protestant, which will be spued out of the mouth of the Lord (Rev. 3:16), and left for judgment when He comes to remove His true people from earth to heaven. The true Church will then appear in resurrection glory as "The Bride of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7; 21:9), the false as "The Great Whore " (Rev. 17:16; 19:2), the corruptness, of the earth. Her first destruction will first be at the hands of the great world-powers, which she formerly ruled (Rev. 17:16), and later by direct judgment from heaven (Rev. 17). So that at the return of the Son of Man, with all His saints in power and glory, there will not be a vestige of real Christianity found on earth. Such will be the inglorious end of that which now boasts of its wealth and greatness, and is held in high honour among men. May the true people of God keep themselves unspotted from the world's religion, with all its glitter and show, which even now has in it the germs of all that will appear in full measure in that day.
[*Note: The Power that Withholdeth—That which withholdeth ... has been understood by some to refer to the Spirit's presence in the Church on earth; and by others to such rule as is established and acknowledged by God (Rom.13:1), for the restraint and punishment of evil doers. It is not wise to dogmatise where Scripture is silent, but the context clearly shews that it is a power antagonistic to the evil which is already working, but which cannot be revealed in its full development as seen in the coming Antichrist, until that Restrainer is removed, or "taken out of the way." We know from other Scriptures that immediately the call of the Church is complete, and the living saints removed from the earth, there will be an outburst of lawlessness such as has never yet been seen on earth, and that the Spirit's work as now witnessed in connection with the preaching of the Gospel, among all nations, will have ceased. And His future operations, "in the midst of Israel" and "upon all flesh" as described in Joel 2:27-29, will not then have begun.]
From The Second Advent of the Lord Jesus, with Subsequent Events in Heaven and on Earth by John Ritchie. 3rd ed., enl. Kilmarnock, Scotland: John Ritchie, .