The Rise of a Counterfeit Christianity
Christ gave an ominous warning—that many would come in His name, teaching a different message that would deceive many. They would create a counterfeit of true Christianity, starting a religion that would largely supplant the true Church.
“Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name . . . and will deceive many” (Matthew:24:4-5).
Jesus Christ told His apostles to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in His name. Most people who are familiar with the Bible realize that those apostles zealously embarked on that mission. Their converts were first called Christians in the city of Antioch (Acts:11:26). Over the centuries, vast numbers of people were born or converted into what eventually became the hundreds of denominations known collectively as “Christianity”—to the point that it became and still remains one of the world’s most popular and dominant religions.
People assume that all, or at least almost all, who bear the name Christian follow the beliefs, teachings and practices of Jesus Christ. But the Bible tells us that not everyone who accepts the name of Christ is really a Christian!
Jesus foretold that some would claim His name but deny Him by their actions. He said they would “call Me ‘Lord, Lord,'” but “not do the things which I say” (Luke:6:46).
Christ and His apostles spoke of false prophets, false apostles and false brethren. They revealed that two opposing religions would emerge, both claiming to be Christian. One—the actual Church Jesus founded—would be led by God’s Spirit and remain faithful to His teachings. The other—guided and influenced by a different spirit—would accept the name of Christ but twist His teachings to create a convincing counterfeit of the true Church of God.
Both would use Christ’s name and claim His authority. Both would perform works that would outwardly appear good and right. Both would claim to be following Christ’s true teachings. But only one would faithfully represent its founder, Jesus Christ. The other would capture the minds and hearts of humanity by attaching the name of Christ to biblically insupportable religious customs and doctrines that Jesus and His apostles neither practiced nor approved.
The apostles repeatedly warned Jesus’ followers to beware of false teachers who would introduce counterfeit-Christian beliefs. Jesus Himself warned: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name…and will deceive many” (Matthew:24:4-5).
The New Testament presents a concise historical sketch of the roots of these two religions that profess to be Christian—one real, one counterfeit. Christ’s apostles described the origin of each and their fundamental characteristics.
We have already examined the apostles’ description of the Church Jesus founded. Now let’s look at the record they left us of another supposedly Christian religion—one that distorted and corrupted the truth and grew to become far more powerful and influential than the small Church Jesus promised would never die out.
Teaching the traditions of men
Where do most churches get their teachings and practices? Most of their members assume they come from the Bible or from Jesus Christ Himself. But do they?
Jesus commanded His apostles to teach others exactly what He had taught—”teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew:28:20, NIV). He condemned the replacing of God’s commandments with traditions and human reason. Speaking to the Pharisees, Jewish religious leaders of His day, He said: “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men…All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mark:7:8-9).
Jesus taught that His Church should keep the commandments of God: “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew:19:17). He warned: “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied [preached] in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” (Matthew:7:22-23). He knew that false teachers would arise who would reject the commandments of God for a distorted gospel of no law—lawlessness!
Like Jesus, the apostles consistently taught obedience to God. Peter and the other apostles risked their lives to make it clear that “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts:5:29). Paul expressed the same commitment he shared with the other apostles—of a life of obedience. “Through him [Christ] and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith” (Romans:1:5, NIV).
Paul later cautioned members of the congregation in Colosse to hold fast to what he had taught them: “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught” (Colossians:2:6-7).
Following Christ’s example, Paul warned the Colossians not to accept traditions as replacements for the commandments of God: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians:2:8; compare Mark:7:8-9, 13).
Why did Jesus Christ and the apostles sound such urgent warnings to avoid the traditions of men?
Subversion from within the Church
As the apostles strove to establish still more congregations of believers among the nations, a phenomenon arose that eventually produced an alternate and outwardly Christian religion—but one quite different from the Church Jesus and His apostles established.
New and different doctrines were subtly introduced. Some began subverting the Church by challenging and contradicting the teachings of Christ’s apostles. Paul warned, “For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus:1:10-11).
To counter this trend, Paul instructed fellow elder Titus to carefully consider the background, knowledge and character of anyone being considered for ordination: “Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless… He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (verses 7, 9, NIV).
Increasingly, “false apostles” began contradicting and undermining the teachings of the true apostles of Christ. Paul cautioned the church in Rome: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil” (Romans:16:17-19, NRSV).
Competing religious leaders, masquerading as ministers of Christ, began teaching their own false doctrines “in opposition to” Christ’s apostles and other of his faithful servants. At first they came predominantly from a Jewish background. But then false teachers emerged from people of other backgrounds within the Church. The subversive doctrines that eventually grew to be the most influential were a blend of pagan and misguided Jewish philosophies synthesized with the mysticism popular at that time.
Simon the Sorcerer was one such false teacher mentioned early in the Scriptures. After his baptism by Philip, Simon attempted to buy the office of apostle from Peter, hoping to obtain the power to grant others the Holy Spirit. Motivated by greed for power and influence, he faked conversion and managed to receive baptism to appear Christian (Acts:8:9-23). Later historical sources indicate that he blended various elements of paganism and mysticism into a counterfeit Christian philosophy.
A dangerous trend was established. Soon “false apostles,” “false teachers” and “false brethren” abounded.
A counterfeit Christianity was born. And it would grow. In saying his farewell to the elders of the church of Ephesus, Paul stated: “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts:20:29-31).
A different gospel gains ground
The impact of distorted teachings devastated the early Church. For example, Christians in the Roman province of Galatia turned en masse from the teachings of the apostle Paul and to a corrupted, cunningly devised but counterfeit gospel promoted by these false apostles.
Paul described the approach they used and the effect the false teachers had on Christians in Galatia: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians:1:6-7).
The brethren in that area were being swept into one of the many sects making up the emerging false Christianity. Paul had to contend with religious strife generated by Jewish and gentile elements in the Galatian congregations.
These cunning pretenders did not reject outright the gospel Paul taught. They simply perverted aspects of it. Then they seduced the Galatian Christians into accepting their gospel—a deadly mixture of truth and error. It contained enough truth to appear righteous and Christian, but it contained sufficient error to prevent any who would accept it from receiving salvation.
Notice Paul’s blistering condemnation of that “different” gospel: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (verses 8-9).
A gospel of no law
Jesus warned His apostles this would happen: “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew:24:11-12). Jesus explained that lawlessness, the key element in the message of the false teachers, would make their ideas appealing and popular. Disregard for God’s law would finally become the foundation of a popular and successful counterfeit Christianity.
The false prophets devised their message and doctrines by verbally acknowledging Jesus as “Lord” while refusing to obey Him (Luke:6:46). Jesus Himself warned of their deceitful, cunning approach: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew:7:15).
Jesus made it clear that teachers of lawlessness, who outwardly appear as innocent sheep performing devoutly religious acts, are not His apostles or servants: “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” (verses 22-23).
God’s law: the religious battleground
Controversy over God’s law erupted within the Church as soon as the first gentiles were converted. Certain Jewish believers wanted to force circumcision and other physical requirements on the gentiles. They demanded that gentile converts be physically circumcised to receive salvation (Acts:15:1).
In a major conference in Jerusalem, the apostles and elders determined that physical circumcision should not be regarded as a requirement for the gentiles’ salvation (Acts:15:2, 5-10). Peter noted that God had recently given the Holy Spirit to several gentiles without their being circumcised, demonstrating His will in the matter (verse 8; Acts:11:1-4, 15-18).
The same Jews also demanded that gentiles observe the temple ceremonies and rituals, which pointed to greater spiritual realities such as the sacrifice of Christ. The apostles insisted that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for the forgiveness of sins through the grace of God (Hebrews:7:26-27).
The temple sacrifices and rituals were only temporary institutions until the sacrifice of the real “Lamb of God” (John:1:29) and His work in the lives of believers. The apostles taught that they were no longer required (Acts:15:11; Hebrews:9:1-15) because they were “concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation” (Hebrews:9:10).
But the apostles never regarded God’s spiritual laws, summarized by the Ten Commandments, as being in the same category with “fleshly ordinances.” They always supported obedience to God’s commandments. Paul made this clear: “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters” (1 Corinthians:7:19). He concluded: “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Romans:3:31).
Distorted view of God’s grace
Just as Jesus had foretold, unscrupulous teachers pounced on the teachings of Paul and the other apostles and twisted their meaning (2 Peter:3:15-16). By distorting the apostles’ words, first about grace and then about those “fleshly ordinances” that are no longer necessary, they discovered a way to excuse their unlawful behavior: “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness [shameful behavior] and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).
To them, grace excused sin—the breaking of God’s law—by allowing them to disregard scriptural teachings they did not like. They twisted Paul’s explanation that we cannot earn salvation with our own “works” into an excuse for making no effort to obey God.
Peter pinpointed their real problem. They “despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries” (2 Peter:2:10). A dominant characteristic of these deceivers was their eagerness to verbally attack and undermine the apostles and elders who were the true shepherds of God’s flock.
As a consequence, said Peter, “they have forsaken the right way and gone astray…For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption” (verses 15, 18-19).
Now a problem even more sinister developed among the scattered congregations of God’s people. False teachers, instead of trying to impose more law on gentiles, began exploiting God’s mercy—the grace of God—to advocate the idea that Christians have been liberated from the law and no longer need to obey it. However, God says transgressing His law is sin (1 John:3:4).
These teachers misrepresented God’s law as an unnecessary burden. John responded: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John:5:3).
Contrary to the idea of being liberated from law, James calls God’s commandments a “royal law” and the “law of liberty” (James:2:8-12). God designed His law to guarantee freedom from the consequences of such evils as adultery, murder, theft, fraud and covetousness.
It is sin, not God’s law, that enslaves us (Romans:6:6). We become free from the enslavement to sin by obeying God (verse 17). Paul explains that obedience and righteousness are inseparable. “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Romans:2:13, NIV).
To better understand the truth about law and grace, send for or download our free book The New Covenant: Does It Abolish God’s Law?
Satan the devil: master deceiver
Scripture reveals that those who promoted these lawless principles were influenced by an unseen spiritual power, Satan the devil. Paul said: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Corinthians:11:13-15).
Satan hates God’s law. He is a master deceiver. Naturally, he will spare no effort to infiltrate the Church Christ founded.
To accomplish his purpose, Satan uses people to mislead other people. It is easy for him to influence human beings who desire to teach others when they are motivated by personal ambition. This is especially true if they lack a proper understanding of the Scriptures. Satan simply takes advantage of their desire to be spiritual teachers. He seduces susceptible individuals to pay lip service to Christ while creating their own new sets of beliefs and ignoring or disobeying portions of God’s laws.
Paul told Timothy to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine” and have a “pure heart,” “good conscience” and “sincere faith…from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm” (1 Timothy:1:3, 6-7).
Sincere but misguided religious leaders can and do accept doctrines that in their mind permit them to break some of God’s commandments. Then they persuade others to believe as they do. Sadly, through the devil’s influence, they convince themselves that their misguided concepts are righteous—that God is pleased with them. They believe the false doctrines they teach. Although sincere, they are sincerely mistaken.
Paul says, “The coming of the lawless one [a future teacher who will advocate doctrines contrary to God’s laws] is according to the working of Satan…with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie” (2 Thessalonians:2:9-11). Probably none of the misguided teachers perceives he is in reality advocating Satan’s point of view.
However, by creating a counterfeit Christian religion—one that is not entirely different from the true Church but rejects some of the essential biblical teachings that lead to eternal life—Satan is attempting to thwart God’s plan for the salvation of mankind. Remember, Jesus says, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew:19:17). That is exactly what the devil wants to prevent. He promotes a lawless Christianity that teaches we can selectively obey—or even ignore—God’s commandments.
Lawlessness in varying degrees is the centerpiece of Satan’s counterfeit doctrines. His purpose is to convince people that they are serving Christ while cutting them off from salvation by clouding their understanding of what sin is so they will continue in sin—so they will practice at least some degree of lawlessness.
To accomplish his purpose, Satan exploits human nature. He sways people to believe his deceptions (1 John:5:19; Revelation:12:9). Satan retains just enough truth in his doctrines to persuade people they are following Christ. But he introduces sufficient error to prevent them from living the way that God requires as a condition for inheriting eternal life.
Why disobedience appeals to human nature
Satan is successful in deceiving humanity for good reason. The apostle Paul explains that the natural mind of man—the mind that is not guided by God’s Spirit—cannot always see the purpose behind God’s laws. “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians:2:14).
Most people are not overtly hostile toward many of God’s laws. They usually recognize that deeds such as murder and theft are wrong. However, they are hostile—perhaps without recognizing their ingrained hostility—toward laws that challenge their own personal, natural way of thinking. In that sense lawlessness appeals to people.
Paul explains why disobedience can appeal to our baser instincts: “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans:8:7). The carnal, or fleshly, mind not only lacks spiritual discernment, it resents God’s authority as expressed in His laws. The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates this verse: “The mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so.”
We call this sinful tendency human nature—a combination of human weakness and acquired attitudes resulting from Satan’s influence on people. Satan exploits human nature. He uses his false teachers to convince other people that they are “liberated” from the laws of God, thus excusing their tendency to be hostile toward God’s laws. So, rather than abandoning a life of lawlessness, those led astray by this deception continue in sin. Thinking their disobedient actions are permissible to God, they fail to recognize, at least in some of their beliefs and behavior, the seriousness of their sinful actions.
But the apostle James makes it clear that this approach and attitude to God’s royal law are entirely wrong: “For whoever shall keep the whole law and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James:2:10). The context shows that James is speaking of the Ten Commandments (verses 8-9, 11). God’s fundamental law is made up of 10 points, and He requires us to observe them all—in letter and spirit.
A falling away from truth begins
Christ praised the church in Ephesus for refusing to follow false apostles who tried to take advantage of their human nature and seduce them: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars” (Revelation:2:2).
But not everyone in every congregation followed the example of the church in Ephesus. Many accepted the teachings of the false apostles and reverted to sinning. That is why Peter wrote: “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter:2:20-21).
People began turning away from the teachings of Christ’s true apostles. They accepted the philosophies of false teachers. Peter had explicitly warned that this would occur. He said false teachers would arise “among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Peter:2:1-2).
Peter anticipated that not just a few—but many—Christians would turn aside from the truth to follow doctrines that were more appealing to the carnal mind. Later John confirms that this is indeed what happened: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1 John:2:19).
Barnabas and Paul encountered a false prophet determined to turn people away from the truth. “Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus…But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith” (Acts:13:6-8).
On other occasions the problem lay with false brethren (Galatians:2:4). Paul referred to his trials “in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren” (2 Corinthians:11:26).
These false Christians had not become a genuine threat just to Paul’s safety and effectiveness, but they had also become a significant part of the visible Christian community. Some may have finally gone out from God’s special people but continued calling themselves Christian. Others became members of new and supposedly liberated sects that retained the name Christian. Still others probably remained in the fellowship of true believers and over time subverted congregations to their own heretical teachings.
A false Christianity was beginning to take a firm hold.
True Christians forced out of congregations
As the teachings of false ministers gained in popularity, their followers gradually grew to be the majority in some congregations. The apostle John records one such tragic example: “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church” (3 John 9-10).
Incredible as it sounds, those who were faithful to the teaching of the apostles were expelled from this congregation! They had become the minority. The majority had chosen to follow Diotrephes, who, in his own lust for power and influence, falsely accused the apostle John. Satan had succeeded in placing his minister over this congregation, expelling the faithful servants of Jesus Christ.
Remember, Jesus had already warned His true servants that this would happen: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew:7:13-15).
He also said, as earlier quoted: “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men” (Mark:7:6-8, NIV).
Now we can understand why Paul explained to Christians in Rome the appropriate response to those who were stirring up division within the Church: “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them” (Romans:16:17, NIV).
Counterfeit Christianity become dominant
By the end of the third century the true servants of God had become a distinct minority among those who called themselves Christians. The counterfeit Christianity had become the majority.
False teachers had successfully gained a far larger following than the faithful ministers of God. However, history shows the counterfeit sects were not united in their beliefs. Many factions existed among them.
Nevertheless, divided and unconverted as it was, this new brand of Christianity rapidly expanded its membership and became the visible Christian church. Claiming to offer salvation, but without the necessity of real repentance, it held just enough truth to appeal to the masses.
In spite of its faults, it appeared to offer a hope unequaled by any pagan religion at that time. None of the pagan religions offered a believable way for people to receive forgiveness of sins and obtain eternal life. This new religion seemed to offer just that. Little did its followers realize that its promises, without real repentance, were made in vain.
By the end of the third century this counterfeit Christianity was a squabbling, bitterly divided religion. But at the beginning of the fourth century two things happened that abruptly altered the course of Christian history. First, the Roman emperor Diocletian intensified the policy of many previous Roman emperors of persecuting Christians and ordered that all Christian manuscripts be burned. This dramatically renewed a climate of fear throughout the Christian community.
Ten years later another emperor, Constantine, came to power. He had defeated another powerful contender for the right to replace Diocletian as emperor, but he still had many enemies, and his political position remained insecure. In all the empire, only Christians were unaligned politically. Constantine immediately saw an opportunity to use this formerly persecuted and politically alienated religious body to strengthen his hold on the empire.
First he legalized Christianity. Then, only two years later, he called all the divided professing Christian groups together to hammer out a unified system of belief. He wanted a united religious body that was politically committed to him.
To achieve this, Constantine presided over doctrinal deliberations and dictated statements of belief whenever disagreements could not be resolved amicably. He soon successfully molded the bickering groups of counterfeit Christians who were willing to accept state control into a strong and unified vassal of the Roman Empire.
Williston Walker, former professor of ecclesiastical history at Yale University, tells us that, in the year 323, “Constantine was at last the sole ruler of the Roman world. The church was everywhere free from persecution . . . But, in winning its freedom from its enemies, it had come largely under the control of the occupant of the Roman imperial throne. A fateful union with the state had begun” (A History of the Christian Church, 1946, p. 111).
A religion transformed through syncretism
As this new religion—now supported by the Roman emperors—grew in power and influence, it sought to become a truly universal church. In its ambition to add more members, many new converts—and many new practices—were welcomed into its fold.
Charles Guignebert, professor of the history of Christianity at the University of Paris, described the process: “Now at the beginning of the fifth century, the ignorant and the semi-Christians thronged into the Church in numbers…They had forgotten none of their pagan customs . . . The bishops of that period had to content themselves with redressing, as best they could, and in experimental fashion, the shocking malformations of the Christian faith which they perceived around them…
“[Properly instructing converts] was out of the question; they had to be content with teaching them no more than the symbol of baptism and then baptizing them en masse, postponing until a later date the task of eradicating their superstitions, which they preserved intact…This ‘later date’ never arrived, and the Church adapted to herself, as well as she could, them and their customs and beliefs. On their side, they were content to dress up their paganism in a Christian cloak” (The Early History of Christianity, 1927, pp. 208-210).
What was the result? This state-dominated Christianity became a bizarre synthesis of beliefs, practices and customs from many sources.
As Professor Guignebert explained, “It is sometimes very difficult to tell exactly from which pagan rite a particular Christian rite is derived, but it remains certain that the spirit of pagan ritualism became impressed upon Christianity, to such an extent that at last the whole of it might be found distributed through its ceremonies” (p. 121).
In those early centuries the counterfeit Christianity that the apostles of Jesus Christ had fought so hard to contain grew in size and popularity. In later centuries this religion would fragment repeatedly into competing denominations. Tragically, however, none completely returned to the original practices and teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles. This fact is recognized by many modern biblical scholars.
Meanwhile, those who through these many centuries have faithfully continued to yield their lives to God in sincere obedience to His laws are still, comparatively speaking, only a “little flock” in a confused world.
When Jesus Christ foretold the major trends that would precede His return to earth, the first sign He mentioned was religious imposters who would come in His name. Do you take that warning seriously?
Posted February 3, 2004
Satan deceives mankind by counterfeiting and corrupting the teachings of God.
Posted February 21, 2011
The Fruitless Vine
March 22, 1857
C. H. SPURGEON
“And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, What is the vine-tree more than any tree, or than a branch which is among the trees of the forest?”—Ezekiel 15:1-2.
The Jewish nation had arrogant ideas of themselves; when they sinned against God, they supposed that on account of the superior sanctity of their forefathers, or by reason of some special sanctity in themselves, they would be delivered, sin as they pleased. In consequence of the infinite mercy of Jehovah, which he had displayed toward them, in delivering them our of so many distresses, they gradually came to imagine that they were the favorite children of Providence, and that God could by no means ever cast them away. God, therefore, in order to humble their pride, tells them that they in themselves were nothing more than any other nation; and he asks them what there was about them to recommend them? “I have often called you a vine; I have planted you, and nurtured you in a very fruitful hill, but now you bring forth no fruit; what is there in you why I should continue you in my favor? If you imagine there is any thing about you more than about any other nation, you are mightily mistaken.” “What is the vine-tree more than any tree, or than a branch which is among the trees of the forest?”
Let us remember that these things might be said without implying that God in the least degree alters his eternal purpose toward any chosen vessel of mercy; for the Israelitish nation was not chosen to eternal salvation, as a nation, but chosen to special privileges; a type and shadow of that eternal personal election which Christ has given to his church. From his own elect church God will never withdraw his love; but from the outward and visible church he sometimes may. From his own people he never will take away his affection, but from professors, from those who merely stand in his people’s external condition, and are not his children, he may, yea and he will, withdraw every token of his favor. God humbles Israel, by reminding them that they had nothing which other nations had not; that, in fact, they were a contemptible nation, not worthy to be set side by side with the cedar of Babylon, or with the oak of Samaria; they were of no use, they were worthless, unless they brought forth fruit to him. He checks their pride and humbles them, with the parable we have here before us.
Beloved, we shall, by God’s help, use this parable for ourselves, and learn two lessons from it. The first shall be a lesson of humility for saints; and the second, a lesson of searching for all who are professors.
I. First, here is A LESSON OF HUMILITY for all you who have “tasted that the Lord is gracious.” “What is the vine-tree more than any tree, or than a branch which is among the trees of the forest?”
In looking upon all the various trees, we observe that the vine is distinguished among them; so that, in the old parable of Jotham, the trees waited upon the vine-tree, and said unto it, “Come thou and reign over us.” But merely looking at the vine, without regard to its fruitfulness, we should not see any kingship in it over other trees. In size, form, beauty, or utility, it has not the slightest advantage. We can do nothing with the wood of the vine. Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work? or will men make a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon?” It is a useless plant apart from its fruitfulness. We sometimes see it in beauty, trained up by the side of our walls, and in the East it might be seen in all its luxuriance, and great care is bestowed in its training; but leave the vine to itself, and consider it apart from its fruitfulness, it is the most insignificant and despicable of all things that bear the name of trees. Now, beloved, this is for the humbling of God’s people. They are called God’s vine; but what are they by nature more than others? Others are as good as they; yea, some others are even greater and better than they. They, by God’s goodness, have become fruitful, have been planted in a good soil; the Lord hath trained them upon the walls of the sanctuary, and they bring forth fruit to his glory. But what are they without their God? What are they without the continual influence of the Spirit, begetting fruitfulness in them? Are they not the least among the sons of men, and the most to be despised of those that have been brought forth of women? Look upon this, believer.
“What was there in thee to merit esteem,
Or give the Creator delight?”
Yea, look upon thyself as thou art now. Doth not thy conscience reproach thee? Do not thy thousand wanderings stand before thee, and tell thee that thou art unworthy to be called his son? Does not the weakness of thy mental power, the frailty of thy moral power, thy continual unbelief, and thy perpetual backsliding from God, tell thee that thou art less than the least of all saints? And if he hath made thee any thing, art thou not thereby taught that it is grace, free, sovereign grace, which hath made thee to differ? Should any here, supposing themselves to be the children of God, imagine that there is some reason in them why they should have been chosen, let them know, that as yet they are in the dark concerning the first principles of grace, and have not yet learned the gospel. If ever they had known the gospel, they would, on the other hand, confess that they were less than the least—the offscouring of all things—unworthy, ill-deserving, undeserving, and hell-deserving, and ascribe it all to distinguishing grace, which has made them to differ; and to discriminating love, which has chosen them out from the rest of the world. Great Christian, thou wouldst have been a great sinner if God had not made thee to differ. O! thou who art valiant for truth, thou wouldst have been as valiant for the devil if grace had not laid hold of thee. A seat in heaven shall one day be thine; but a chain in hell would have been thine if grace had not changed thee. Thou canst now sing his love; but a licentious song might have been on thy lips, if grace had not washed thee in the blood of Jesus. Thou art now sanctified, thou art quickened, thou art justified; but what wouldst thou have been to-day if it had not been for the interposition of the divine hand? There is not a crime thou mightest not have committed; there is not a folly into which thou mightest not have run. Even murder itself thou mightest have committed if grace had not kept thee. Thou shalt be like the angels; but thou wouldst have been like the devil if thou hadst not been changed by grace. Therefore, never be proud; all thy garments thou hast from above; rags were thine only heritage. Be not proud, though thou hast a large estate, a wide domain of grace; thou hadst once not a single thing to call thine own, except thy sin and misery. Thou art now wrapped up in the golden righteousness of the Saviour, and accepted in the garments of the beloved; but thou wouldst have been buried under the black mountain of sin, and clothed with the filthy rags of unrighteousness, if he had not changed thee. And art thou proud? Dost thou exalt thyself? O! strange mystery, that thou, who hast borrowed every thing, should exalt thyself; that thou, who hast nothing of thine own, but hast still to draw upon grace, shouldst be proud; a poor dependent pensioner upon the bounty of thy Saviour, and yet proud; one who hath a life which can only live by fresh streams of life from Jesus, and yet proud! Go, hang thy pride upon the gallows, as high as Haman; hang it there to rot, and stand thou beneath, and execrate it to all eternity; for sure of all things most to be cursed and despised is the pride of a Christian. He, of all men, has ten thousand times more reason than any other to be humble, and walk lowly with his God, and kindly and humbly toward his fellow-creatures. Let this, then, humble thee, Christian, that the vine-tree is nothing more than any other tree, save only for the fruitfulness which God has given it.
II. But now here comes A LESSON OF SEARCH. As the vine without its fruit is useless and worthless; so, too, the professor, without fruit, is useless and worthless; yea, he is the most useless thing in the wide world.
Now, let us dwell upon this point. A fruitless profession. And while I am preaching on it, let the words go round to each one, and let the minister, and let his deacons, and let his hearers all try their hearts and search their reins, and see whether they have a fruitless profession.
1. First, a fruitless professor. How do we know him? what is his character? Secondly, What is the reason he is fruitless? Thirdly, What is the estimation God holds him in? He is good for nothing at all. And, then, fourthly, What will be his end? He is to be burned with fire.
First, Where are we to find fruitless professors? Everywhere, dear friends, everywhere—down here, up there, everywhere; in pulpits and in pews. False professors are to be found in every church. Let us leave other denominations alone, then. They are to be found in this church; they are to be found in this present assembly. to whatever denomination you belong, there are some false and fruitless professors in it. How know you that you may not belong to those who bring forth no fruit? There are fruitless professors to be found in every position of the church, and in every part of society. You may find the false professor among the rich; he hath much wealth, and he is hailed with gladness by the church. God hath given him much of this world’s good; and therefore, the church, forgetful that God hath chosen the poor, giveth him honor, and what doth she get from him? She getteth but little to help her. Her poor are still neglected, and her means not in the least recruited by his riches. Or if she gain a portion of his riches, yet she getteth none of his prayers; nor is she in the least supported by his holy living, for he that hath riches often liveth in sin, and rolleth in uncleanness; and, then, weareth his profession as a uniform, wherewith to cover his guilt. Rich men have sometimes been false professors; and thy are to be found among poor men too. Full many a poor man has entered into the church, and been cordially received. He has been poor, and they have thought it a good thing that poverty and grace should go together—that grace should cheer his hovel, and make his poverty-stricken home a glad one. But then, this poor man hath turned aside to follies, and hath degraded himself with drunkenness, hath sworn, and by unworthy conduct dishonored his God; or, if not, he hath been idle, and sat still, and been of little service to the church; and so he hath been false and fruitless in his profession.
False professors are to be found in the men that lead the vanguard of God’s army; the men who preach eloquently, whose opinion is law, who speak like prophets, and whose language seems to be inspired. They have brought forth the fruit of popularity, ay, and the fruit of philanthropy too, but their heart has not been right with God, therefore, the fruit, good in itself, was not fruit unto holiness; the moral benefit of their labors does not extend to everlasting life. They have not brought forth the fruits of the Spirit, seeing that they were not living branches of the living vine. Then there have been false professors in obscurity; modest people, who have said nothing, and seldom been heard of; they have glided into their pews on the Sunday morning, taken their seats, gone out, and satisfied themselves that by their presence they had fulfilled a religious duty. They have been so silent, quiet, and retired. Lazy fellows, doing nothing. You may think that all the fruitless trees grow in the hedge outside of the garden. No they don’t. There are some fruitless trees in the inside of it in the very center of it. There are some fruitless trees in the inside of it in the very center of it. There are some false professors to be found in obscurity as well as in publicity; some among the poor as well as among the rich.
And there are false professors to be found among men that doubt a great deal. They are always afraid they do not love Jesus, and always saying, “Ah, if I did but know I were his!—
“‘Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought.”
Yes, and it ought to cause them anxious thought, too, if they are bringing forth no fruit and giving no “diligence to make their calling and election sure.” Fruitless professors are to be found, on the other hand, among the confident men, who say, without a blush, “I know whom I have believed; I know I am a Christian, let who will doubt. I am sure and certain my sins can not destroy me, and my righteousness can not save me. I may do what I like; I know I am one of the Lord’s.” Ah! fruitless professor again; just as fruitless as the other man, who had all doubts and no faith, and did nothing for his Master.And then there is the fruitless professor, who, when he is asked to pray at the prayer meeting, never does so; and who neglects family prayer. We will not say any thing about private devotion; no doubt he neglects that too: he is a fruitless one. Ah! but there may be another, who stands up and prays such an eloquent prayer for a quarter of an hour, perhaps, just as fruitless a professor as the silent one; with plenty of words, but no realities; many leaves, but no fruits; great gifts of utterance, but no gifts of consistency; able to talk well, but not to walk well; to speak piously, but not to walk humbly with his God, and serve him with gladness. I do not know your individual characters; but I know enough of you to say that your position, however honorable in the church, and your character, however fair before men, is not enough to warrant any of you in concluding at once that you are not a fruitless professor. For fruitless professors are of every character and every rank, from the highest to the lowest, from the most talented to the most illiterate, from the richest to the poorest, from the most retiring to the most conspicuous. Fruitless professors there are in every part of the church.Now, shall I tell you who is a fruitless professor? The man who neglects private prayer, and does not walk with his God in public; that man whose carriage and conversation before God are hypocritical; who cheats in trade and robs in business, yet wraps it up, and comes out with a fair face, like the hypocrite with a widow’s house sticking in his throat, and says, “Lord, I thank thee I am not as other men are!” There is a man for you, who brings forth no fruit to perfection. Another one is he who lives right morally and excellently, and depends upon his works, and hopes to be saved by his righteousness; who comes before God, and asks for pardon, with a lie in his right hand, for he has brought his own self-righteousness with him. Such a man is a fruitless professor; he has brought forth no fruit. That man, again, is a fruitless professor who talks big words about high doctrine, and likes sound truth, but he does not like sound living; his pretensions are high, but not his practice. He can bear to hear it said,
“Once in Christ, in Christ for ever.,”
But as for himself, he never was in Christ at all, for he neither loves nor serves his Master, but lives in sin that grace may abound. There is another fruitless vine for you.But why need I stop to pick you out? May the Lord find you out to-night! There are many of you here, concerning whom the curse of Meroz might be uttered. “Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the Lord, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof, because they came not to the help of the Lord; to the help of the Lord against the mighty.” Many of you are content to eat the fat and drink the sweet, and bring forth no fruit to God; nor do you serve him—lazy Issachars, crouching down like a strong ass between two burdens; neither speaking for Christ; nor praying for Christ, nor giving to Christ, nor living to Christ; but having a name to live, while you are dead; wrapping yourselves up in a profession, while you are not living to Christ, nor consecrating your being to him. Judge ye what I say; if ye were put into the sieve this night, how many of you would come out clean in this matter? Are there not many high-flying professors here, who fly high, but who do nothing; who can talk fast, but live as slowly as you like; who, perhaps, delight in hearing the truth, but who never practice the truth in serving their God, nor living to his honor? Such as you, sirs, are the most useless and worthless of all creatures in the world! For, like the vine, you would be honorable if you were fruitful; but without fruit, as the vine is despicable, so are you good for nothing but to be cast out and burned.2. And now I come to the second question—Why is it that these men are fruitless, and must be cast away? The reason is, because they have no roots. Many, many professors have no roots; fine professors they are, beautiful to look at, but they have no roots whatever. Don’t you remember your childish freak, when you had a little garden of your own; when you plucked some flowers, and put them in the ground, and said that was your garden; and when you went the next day, and found that all the flowers were withered and dead? Such are many professors—pretty flowers, plucked off without roots; having no adherence to the soil, drawing no sap and no nourishment from it. And therefore it is they die, and bring forth no fruit. You come to us; and say, “I wish to join the church.” We question you as far as we are able; you solemnly tell us that your hearts are right with God. We baptize you, receive you into our number; but then there was no root in many of you, and after a while you die; when the sun has risen with a burning heat you perish; or if you maintain a tolerably fair profession, yet there is never any fruit upon you, because you did not get the root first; you got this notion first, and then thought you would get the root afterward. I do tremble for many young people in my church—I will not exclude my own church. They get an idea into their heads that they are converted: the work was not true, not genuine, not real; it was an excitement; it was a stir in the conscience for a while, and it will not last. But the worst of it is, that though it does not last, they last as professors. When they have been received into the church, they say, “I am sure enough!” Preach about them as long as you please, you can not get at them. They are church members, they are baptized persons, they have passed the Rubicon; what do they want more? You can do little for them. I do tremble for these. For my most hard-hearted hearers I weep before God; but for these people I need to have four eyes to weep with. For who can make an impression upon them, when they are firmly persuaded that they are right, and have had the seal of the church that they are right, though they are deceiving themselves and others, and are still “in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” My young friends, I do not want to check any of you in joining a church; but I do say to you, make sure work before you make a profession. I would say to as many of you as love the Lord, come forward and unite with God’s people; but, I beseech you, do be sure; do “search you hearts and try your reins.” Many have thought themselves converted when they were not; hundreds of thousands have had an impression, a kind of conversion, not real, which for a while endured, but afterward it passed away as summer’s dream. It was but a little while ago that I had in my house a gentleman, an excellent man, and I believe a true child of God, who told me he had been brought seriously under impression, on account of sin, through hearing a sermon of late. “But,” said he, “I was baptized in my childhood. When I was but young, there was a revival in our village, in New England. Mine was the hardest heart in the village; but I was found out at last. There was scarcely a girl or boy that did not join the church, and I was at last brought under deep impression. I used to weep before God, and pray to him. I went to the minister and told him I was converted, deceived him, and was baptized.” And then he went on to tell me that he had dived into the blackest crimes, and gone far away, even from the profession of religion; that after going to college he had been struck off the church-roll on account of wickedness, and that up to this time he had been an infidel, and had not so much as thought of the things of the kingdom. Take heed, many of you, that you do not get a sham religion. Many jump out of it again, when they find the world pays them better. And many there are who will just come and say they are the Lord’s, and they think they are, but there is no root in them, and therefore by-and-by their impressions pass away. O we have many fruitless professors in our midst, because they do not look well to their beginnings; they did not take heed at their starting point, they did not watch well the first dawn; they thought the little farthing rushlight of their own hopes was the dawning of the Sun of righteousness; they thought the bleeding of their own conscience was a killing by the hand of God, whereas it was a deeper, and better and surer, and more entire work that they needed, than that which they received. Let us take heed, my brethren, that we do not put too much trust in our experiences, and take too much for granted while it is not yet proved in our beginnings; let us often go back and begin again; let us often go to Christ with the old cry,
“Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;”
For remember that these bad beginnings have had a great effect in making a man fruitless.
3. And again, thirdly—What is God’s estimation of fruitless professors? I shall not ask you their own; for there are many men who are professors of religion, with whom you might make your fortune very speedily if you could buy them at your price and sell them at their own. There are many, too, that have a very good opinion of themselves, which they have gained from the church. The minister thinks well of them; the church thinks well of them; they are respectable people; it is so nice to have them come, it helps the cause so, to see such respectable people sitting in the pews! Really, I do think he would do for a deacon! Everybody thinks well of him. Now we have nothing to do with this kind of opinion to-night; our business is with God’s opinion of such a man. And God’s opinion of a man who makes a profession without being sincere, is this—that he is the most useless thing in the world. And now let me try to prove it. Is there any one that will prove that this man is of any use at all? I will ask the church—Here is a man that brings forth no fruit, and has only a profession. Members of the church, what is the use of this man? Will he comfort any of you in your distress? Will he hold up the pastor’s hands in prayer, when he is weary? Will he lead the troops to battle? Will he be of any service to you? I see you unanimously lift up your hands, and say, “The man is of no use to us whatever, if he brings forth no fruit; if his life be not consistent with his profession; strike his name off the church-roll; let him go; he is of no use.” Where has he gone to? He has gone to the world. Bring the worldling up. What do you think of this man? He makes a profession of religion. Is he of any use to you? “No,” they say, “we do not want such a fellow as that. The man is Jack-of-both-sides; he is sometimes a professor of religion, and sometimes a sinner in the world. We will have nothing to do with him; turn him out of our company.” Where shall we sell him then? How shall we dispose of him? He seems to be of no use either to the church or the world. Is he of any use to his family? Ask his eldest son. “John, is your father any good to you?” “No, sir; none at all. He used to pray the Lord to save us with seeming earnestness, and rise from his knees to give vent to his temper. Many a violent blow has he given me without any reasonable provocation. He was always a passionate man. He used to go to chapel on Sunday and take us with him and then we know what he used to do on Monday; he would get drunk, or swear. A deal of use he was ever to me! He made me an infidel, sir!” And his wife, “Well, what do you think of this good husband of yours? He has long made a profession of religion.” “Ah! sir, it is not for me to say a word about my husband; but he has made me a miserable woman. I think I should have joined your church long ago, if it had not been for his miserable inconsistencies. But really he has grieved my heart; he has always been a stumbling-block to me; and what to do with him I do not know.” Well, Jane, we will have you our of the kitchen. “What think you of your master; he makes a profession of religion, yet does not live a right life. What do you think of him?” “Well, I did think that Christians were a good sort of people, and that I should like to live with them; but if this be Christianity, sir, I will take five pounds a year less to live with a worldly man; that’s all I can say.” Well, what is the use of him? I suppose he does something in business. He is a grand professor. He keeps a shop; everybody thinks him a most respectable man. Has he not given a hundred pounds just now to the building of a new church? Is he not always known to subscribe liberally to ragged schools? We will ask his men. “What do you think of your master?” “What do we think of him? Why, we would think a great deal more of him if he would give us a half-crown a week more wages; for he is the worst paymaster in the parish.” “That is nothing, perhaps. But what do you think of him?” “Why, that he is an unutterable cant! Some of us did go to a place of worship, but we are honest, and we would rather stay away than go with such a miserable hypocrite.” I am describing real cases and not fictions. I need not to go further than between this and London Bridge to knock at the door and wake them up, some of them. What is the good of such professors? If they would speak fairly out, and say, “I am no Christian,” there would be some sense in it. For if Baal be God, let Baal be served; and if the world be worth serving, let a man serve it out and out; and let him get the credit of candor—not cheating the devil. But if God be God, and a man live in sin, and talk about grace, then of what use is he? God himself will disown him. Ask him if this man has been of any use, and he replies, “No, of no use whatever.” The vine is of no use unless it bring forth fruit; and this man, making a profession, is worse than worthless, because he does not live up to it. My dear friends, I would not say an extravagant thing, but I will say this very coolly—if any of you, who make a profession of religion, are deceiving others, by not living up to it, I do request you—and I say it advisedly—I do request you to give up your profession, unless God give you grace to live up to it. Do not, I beseech you, halt between two opinions; if God be God, serve him, and do it thoroughly; do not tell lies about it. If Baal be God; if he be a nice master; if you would like to serve him, and win his wages, serve him; but do not mix the two together; be one thing, or else the other. Renounce your profession, and serve the devil thoroughly, or else keep your profession, and serve God with your heart—one thing, or else the other. I solemnly exhort you to choose which you will have, but never think that you can keep both; for “no man can serve two masters.” “Ye can not serve God and mammon.”4. And now let me close up by mentioning what is to become of this fruitless tree? We are told it is to be devoured in the fire. When an old vine is pulled off the wall, after having brought forth no fruit, what becomes of it? You know there is a lot of weeds raked up in the corner of the garden, and the gardener, without taking any notice of it, just throws the vine on the heap of weeds, and it is burned up. If it were any other kind of a tree he would at least reserve it for chopping up to make a fire within the master’s house; but this is much an ignominious thing, he throws it away in the corner and burns it up with the weeds. If it were a stout old oak, it might have the funeral of the yule log, with honor in its burning, and brightness in its flame; but the fruitless vine is treated with contempt, and left to smoulder with the weeds, the refuse, and rubbish. It is a miserable thing. Just so with professors; all men that love not God must perish. But those who profess to love him, and do not, shall perish with singular ignominy. “They shall not come into the sepulchres of the kings.” Something like the ancient king, of whom it was said, “He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem.” The damnation of a professor will be the most horrible and ignominious sight that ever hell itself has seen! When Satan fell from heaven, with his black Satanic malice against God, there was a kind of grandeur in his devilry; there was an awful, terrific sublimity in his damnation; and when a great blasphemer and a hard swearer shall be sent at last to perdition, there shall be something of sublimity in it, because he has been consistent with his profession. But when a professor of religion finds himself in hell, it shall be the most miserable, contemptible, and yet terrible mode of damnation wherewith men were ever damned. I think I see honest blasphemers lifting themselves from their chains of fire, and hissing between their teeth at the minister who comes there, after having been a deceiver—”Aha! aha! aha! art thou here with us? Thou didst warn us of our drunkenness, and tell us of our curse; ah! art thou come into the drunkard’s hell thyself?” “Pshaw!” says another, “that is your strict Pharisee. Ah! I remember how he told me one night that I should perish, unless I made a profession of religion. Take that, sir!” and he spits upon him. “Thou art a loathsome thing. I perished; but I served my master well. Thou—thou didst pretend to serve God, and yet thou art a sneaking hypocrite!” Says another, yelling from the corner of the pit, “Let us have a Methodist hymn, sir; quote a promise from the Bible; tell us about election. Let us have a little of your fine preaching now.” And round hell there goes the hiss, and the “aha! aha! aha!” and the yell of spitefulness and scorn upon the man who professed to be a Christian, but became a castaway, because his heart was not right in the matter. I confess, I should dread above all things the unutterable hell of hells of hypocritical apostates, of men that stand in the ranks, profess to love God, prate godliness, that sit in the pews and uphold Christianity, that take the sacrament, and speak about communion, that stand up to pray, and talk about being heard for their faith, who are all the while committing abominations, and under cover of their professions are cheating the poor, robbing the fatherless, and doing all kinds of iniquity. I confess, I as much dread the excess of their damnation, above the damnation of others, as I dread to be damned at all. It is as if in hell another hell had been made, to damn those that sin above others, to damn them after being damned—for hypocrites, for men who have been with us, and not of us; who professed to be Christ’s, and yet have been mean deceivers after all. O! sirs, if ye would not make your chains more heavy, if ye would not stir the fire to a more furious heat, if ye would not make your yells more hideous, quit your professions this night, if ye are not worthy of them. Go out of this place, and send in your resignation to the church; or else, sirs, be honest, and bend your knee before God, and ask him to search you, and try you, and make you sincere and upright before him. Be one thing, or else the other; do not cloak yourself in the robes of sanctity to hide the corruptions that all the while fester beneath. Stand out, bold, brave sinners; and do not be mean, sneaking sinners, that wear the masks of saints. “What is the vine more than any other tree?” Without fruit it is worse than any other. It must perish more dolefully, more horribly than any other, if there be on it no fruit brought to perfection. Does not this shake us? Ah! it will shake you, very likely, that do not want the shaking; but the men that want arousing will keep just as they were. It will go into the hearts of some of you, like the cry, “Howl, Moab, howl, Moab!” but alas! Moab will not howl. You will weep for Kirhareseth but Kirhareseth will not weep for herself. You will weep for your hypocritical friends; but they will rub their eyes, and say, “A strong sermon; but it has nothing to do with me.” And they will go out with cool presumption; sin with one hand, and take the sacramental cup with the other; sing the lascivious song one night, and then sing,
“Jesus, lover of my soul,”
the day after. Meet Christ here, and take the devil yonder, and bid him God speed in all his freaks of devilry. Ah! sirs, sirs, sirs, take heed, take heed, I beseech you, of this matter. Let us each search our hearts, lest we should have been deceived. And may God bring us to a right understanding in this matter, that we may be clear before him. “Search me, O God, and know my ways; try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked thing in me; and lead me in the way everlasting.”And, now, I must not send you away until I have had a word with my friend in the aisle there. He says, “I like that, I like that; I am no professor, I am not; I am all right. No one can call me a hypocrite.” Well, my dear friend, I am very glad you are not, because you say you are no Christian. But let me tell you, you must not expect to be a wonderful deal the better off for that. Suppose two men are brought up before the Lord Mayor, and one says, “Your worship, I am an honest man and not guilty;” and he blushes that an imputation should be cast on his character. Well, he is proved to be guilty, and gets committed to prison for three months. Up comes the other one, and says, “Your worship, I am a guilty man; I always was a rogue, and I always shall be; I don’t make a profession at all.” “I think I must give you six months,” says his worship, “for really I think you must be the more determined rascal of the two.” So if any of you say, “I don’t make a profession, I shall be all right,” let me tell you, that to make a lying profession is a very fearful thing; but for you to think of getting off because you make no profession at all, is equally bad. Take heed you do not deceive yourselves; it must be the new heart and the right spirit with God, or else, profession or no profession, we must perish. O! that God would give us grace to go to our houses, and cry to him for mercy, and would help us to repent of our sins, and bring us to put our trust simply and wholly upon the Lord Jesus Christ! So should we be saved now, and saved for ever.