[b]The Devil and the Church[/b]
[i]by E.M. Bounds[/i]
The identification of Christ with men was as complete in extent as it was real in nature. The first chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews sets forth seven proofs of Divine Sonship, and the second chapter enumerates the following seven points of His identification with man: He descended to man's level, took man's nature, endured man's temptation, died in man's place, conquered the devil, man's foe, achieved man's victory, and secured man's salvation. Samuel Chadwick.
The devil is too wise, too large in mental grasp, too lordly in ambition, to confine his aims to the individual. He seeks to direct the policy and sway the scepter of nations. In his largest freedom, and in his delirium of passion and success, 'he goes out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth.' He is an adept in deception, an expert in all guileful arts. An archangel in execution, he often succeeds in seducing the nations most loyal to Christ, leading them into plans and principles which pervert and render baneful all Christly principles. The Church itself, the bride of Christ, when seduced from her purity, degenerates into a worldly ecelesiasticism.
The 'gates of hell shall not prevail' against the Church. This promise of our Lord stands against every Satanic device and assault: But this immutable word as to the glorious outcome does not protect the Church from the devil's stratagems which may, and often do, pervert the aims of the Church and postpone the day of its final triumph.
The devil is a hydra-headed monster, but he is hydra-headed in plans and wisdom as well as in monstrosities. His master and supreme effort is to get control of the Church, not to destroy its organization, but to abate and pervert its Divine ends. This he does in the most insidious way, seemingly innocent, no startling change, nothing to shock nor to alarm. Sometimes the revolutionizing and destructive change is introduced under the disguise of a greater zeal for Christ's glory. Introduced by some one high in church honour, often it occurs that the advocate of these measures is totally ignorant of the fact that the tendency is subversive.
One of the schemes of Satan to debase and pervert is to establish a wrong estimate of church strength. If he can raise false measurements of church power; if he can press the material to the front; if he can tabulate these forces so as to make them imposing and aggregating in commands, influence, and demand, he has secured his end.
In the Mosaic economy, the subversion of the ends of the Church and the substitution of material forces was guarded against. Their kings were warned against the accumulation, parade, and reliance on material forces.
It was in the violation of this law that David sinned when he yielded to the temptation of Satan to number the people.
It was to this end some suggest that the devil contended with Michael, the archangel, about the body (or system) of Moses, referred to in Peter and Jude and narrated by Zechariah, third chapter. At which time there was given that redoubtable, rallying text which asserts the eternal separation of spiritual forces from and their antagonism to the material. 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.'
To this, the third temptation of our Lord was directed. In measure, such temptation by which the devil tried Jesus was intended to subvert the ends of His kingdom by substituting material elements of strength for the spiritual.
This is one of the devil's most insidious and successful methods to deceive, divert and deprave. He marshals and parades the most engaging material results, lauds the power of civilizing forces and makes its glories and power pass in review till church leaders are dazzled, and ensnared, and the Church becomes thoroughly worldly while boasting of her spirituality. No deceiver is so artful in the diabolical trade of deception as Satan. As an angel of light he leads a soul to death. To mistake the elements of church strength, is to mistake the character of the Church, and also to change its character all its efforts and aims. The strength of the Church lies in its piety. All else is incidental, and is not of the strength of things. But in worldly, popular language of this day, a church is called strong when its membership is large, when it has social position, financial resources; when ability, learning, and eloquence fill the pulpit, and when the pews are filled by fashion, intelligence, money and influence. An estimate of this kind is worldly to the fullest extent.
The church that thus defines its strength is on the highway to apostasy. The strength of the Church does not consist of any or all of these things. The faith, holiness and zeal of the Church are the elements of its power. Church strength does not consist in its numbers and its money, but in the holiness of its members. Church strength is not found in these worldly attachments or endowments, but in the endowment of the Holy Ghost on its members. No more fatal or deadly symptom can be seen in a church than this transference of its strength from spiritual to material forces, from the Holy Ghost to the world. The power of God in the Church is the measure of its strength and is the estimate which God puts on it, and not the estimate the world puts on it. Here is the measure of its ability to meet the ends of its being.
On the contrary, show us a church, poor, illiterate, obscure and unknown, but composed of praying people. They may be men of neither power nor wealth nor influence. They may be families that do not know one week where they are to get their bread for the next. But with them is 'the hiding of God's power,' and their influence will be felt for eternity, and their light shines, and they are watched, and wherever they go, there is a fountain of light, and Christ in them is glorified and His kingdom advanced. They are His chosen vessels of salvation and His luminaries to reflect His light
There are signs everywhere unmistakable and of dire import that Protestantism has been blinded and caught by Satan's dazzling glare.
We are being seriously affected by the material progress of the age. We have heard so much of it, and gazed on it so long, that spiritual estimates are tame to us. Spiritual views have no form nor comeliness to us. Everything must take on the rich colourings, luxuriant growth and magnificent appearance of the material, or else it is beggarly. This is the most perilous condition the Church has to meet, when the meek and lowly fruits of piety are to be discounted by the showy and worldly graces with which material success crowds the Church. We must not yield to the flood. We must not for a moment, not the hundredth part of an inch, give place to the world. Piety must be stressed in every way and at every point. The Church must be made to see and feel this delusion and snare, this transference of her strength from God to the world, this rejection of the Holy Ghost by the endowment of 'might and power,' and this yielding to Satan. The Church more and more is inclined not only to disregard, but to despise, the elements of spiritual strength and set them aside, for the more impressive worldly ones.
We have been and are schooling ourselves into regarding as elements of church prosperity only those items which make showings in a statistical column, and which impress an age given up to the materialization of secular facts and figures; and as the most vital spiritual conditions and gains cannot be reduced to figures, they are left out of the column and its aggregates, and after a while they will neither be noted nor estimated. If we do not call a halt and change our methods, the whole estimate of the strength of a church will be supremely worldly. However imposing our material results may be, however magnificent and prosperous the secular arm of the Church appears, we must go deeper than these for its strength. We must proclaim it, and iterate and reiterate it with increased emphasis, that the strength of the Church does not lie in these things.
These may be but the gilded delusions which we mistake for the true riches, and while we are vainly saying, 'We are rich and increased in goods,' God has written of us that we are 'wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.' They will be, if we are not sleeplessly vigilant, but the costly spices and splendid decoration which embalm and entomb our spirituality. True strength lies in the vital godliness of the people. The aggregate of the personal holiness of the members of each church is the only true measure of strength. Any other test offends God, dishonours Christ, grieves the Holy Spirit, and degrades religion.
A church can often make the fairest and best showing of material strength when death in its deadliest form is feeding on its vitals. There can scarcely be a more damaging delusion than to judge of the conditions of the Church by its material exhibits or churchly activity. Spiritual barrenness and rottenness in the Church are generally hidden by a fair exterior and an obtrusive parade of leaves and an exotic growth. A spiritual church converts souls from sin soundly, clearly and fully, and puts them on the stretch for perfect holiness, and those who are straining to get it, to keep it, and to add to it.
This spirituality is not a by-play, not to be kept in a corner of the Church, not its dress for holiday or parade days, but it is its chief and only business. If God's Church is not doing this work of converting sinners to holiness and perfecting saints in holiness, wherever and whenever this work is not blazing and conspicuous, wherever and whenever this work becomes secondary, or other interests are held to be its equivalent, then the Church has become worldly. Wherever and whenever the material interests are emphasized till they come into prominence, then the world comes to the throne and sways the scepter of Satan. There is no readier and surer way to make the Church worldly than to put its material prosperity to the front, and no surer, readier way to put Satan in charge. It is an easy matter for the assessments to become of first moment by emphasizing them till a sentiment is created that these are paramount. When collecting money, building churches, and statistical columns are to stand as evidences of real church prosperity, then the world has a strong lodgment, and Satan has gained his end.
Another scheme of Satan is to eliminate from the Church all the lowly self-denying ordinances which are offensive to unsanctified tastes and un-regenerate hearts, and reduce the Church to a mere human institution, popular, natural, fleshly and pleasing.
Satan has no scheme more fearfully destructive and which can more thoroughly thwart God's high and holy purposes, than to transform God's Church and make it a human institution according to man's views. God's right arm is thereby paralyzed, the body of Christ has become the body of Satan, light turned into darkness and life into death.
Men who sit in apostolic seats often through a marvelous blindness, sometimes through a false attachment to what they deem truth, and for what they consider the honour of Christ, are found trying to eliminate from the system of Christ those painful, offensive, unpopular, and self-denying features to which it owes all its saving efficacy, and beauty and power, and which stamp it as divine.
We have a painful illustration most instructive and warning in Peter, recorded thus:
'From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord; this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offense unto me; for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For tile Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.'
Here is a lesson most suggestive, a lesson for all times, a warning for each man, for all men, for church men, for saintly men and for apostolic men. An apostle has become the mouthpiece of Satan! Alarming, horrible, unnatural and revolting picture! An apostle, zealous for his Master's glory, advocating with fire and force a scheme which would forever destroy that glory! An apostle, the apostle Peter, Satan's vicegerent! The apostle who had but just made that inspired confession, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,' which placed him in highest honour and commendation with Christ and the Church! Before the words of that divine and marvellous confession had died from his lips, this same apostle is the inflamed and self-willed advocate of views and plans which will render his confession a nullity, and raze the impregnable and eternal foundations of the Church.
Peter, a chief apostle, fathering and advocating schemes which would discrown Christ of His Messiahship, and bring heaven's favourite plan to a most disastrous and shameful end! How came this? What baneful impulse impels Peter? Satan has entered him and for the time being, has mastered his purposes, and so Christ reproves Peter, but in the reproof strikes a crushing blow at Satan. 'Get thee behind me, Satan,' a reminder and duplicate of the wilderness temptation. 'Thou art an offense (a stumbling block) to me.' The devil's trigger to catch Christ in the devil's trap-'Thou savourest not the things which be of God, but those that be of men.' The devil is not in sight. Man appears and his views are pressed to the front. The things which men savour in church plan and church life are against God's plan. The high and holy principles of self-denial, of unworldliness of life, and of self-surrender to Christ, are all against men's view of religion, a losing thing with them. The devil does not seek to destroy the Church only indirectly. Men's views would eliminate all these unpopular principles of the cross, self-denial, life surrender and world surrender. But when this is done, the devil runs the Church. Then it becomes popular, cheery, flesh-pleasing, modern and progressive. But it is the devil's church, founded on principles pleasing in every way to flesh and blood. No Christ is in it, no crucifixion of self, no crucifixion of the world, no second coming of Christ, no eternal judgment, no everlasting hell, no eternal heaven. Nothing is in it that savours of God, hut all that savours of men. Man makes the devil's church by turning Christ's Church over to men leaders. The world is sought and gained in the devil's church, but the man, the soul, heaven, are all lost, lost to all eternity.
The very heart of this disgraceful apostasy, this dethroning Christ and enthroning the devil, is to remove the Holy Spirit from His leadership in the Church and put in unspiritual men as leaders to plan for and direct the Church. The strong hands of men of great ability and men with the powers of leadership have often displaced God's leadership. The ambition for leadership and the enthronement of man-leadership, is the doom and seal of apostasy. There is no leadership in God's Church but the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The man who has the most of God's Spirit is God's chosen leader, ambitious and zealous for the Spirit's sovereignty, ambitious to be the least, the slave of all.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon