"And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication." Rev 14:8
The churches that refused to receive the first angel's message, rejected light from Heaven. That message was sent in mercy to arouse them to see their true condition of worldliness and backsliding, and to seek a preparation to meet their Lord. God has ever required his people to remain separate from the world, that they might not be allured from their allegiance to him. He delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt because he would not have them corrupted by the idolatry with which they were there surrounded.
The children of this world are the children of darkness. Their attention is not directed to the Sun of Righteousness, but is centered upon themselves and the treasures of earth. Blinded by the god of this world, they have no just perception of the glory and majesty of the true God. While they enjoy his gifts, they forget the claims of the Giver. Such have chosen to walk in darkness, and they are led by the prince of the powers of darkness. They do not love and enjoy divine things, because they do not discern their value or loveliness. They have alienated themselves from the light of God, and their understanding becomes so confused in regard to that which is right, true, and holy, that the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to them.
It was to separate the church of Christ from the corrupting influence of the world that the first angel's message was given. But with the multitude, even of professed Christians, the ties which bound them to earth were stronger than the attractions heavenward. They chose to listen to the voice of worldly wisdom, and turned away from the heart-searching message of truth.
Peter, writing as he was inspired by the Holy Spirit, described the manner in which the message of Christ's second coming would be received: "There shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water; whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished; but the heavens and the earth which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men." [2 PETER 3:3-7.]
Those who perished in the waters of the flood had an opportunity to escape. All were urged to find refuge in the ark; but the multitudes refused to heed the warning. So when the first angel's message was given, all who heard were invited to receive it, and share the blessing to follow its acceptance; but many scorned and rejected the call. One turned to his farm, another to his merchandise, and they cared for none of these things. Inspiration declares that when the antediluvians rejected Noah's words, the Spirit of God ceased to strive with them. So when men now despise the warnings which God in mercy sends them, his Spirit after a time ceases to arouse conviction in their hearts. God gives light to be cherished and obeyed, not to be despised and rejected. The light which he sends becomes darkness to those who disregard it. When the Spirit of God ceases to impress the truth upon the hearts of men, all hearing is vain, and all preaching also is vain.
When the churches spurned the counsel of God by rejecting the Advent message, the Lord rejected them. The first angel was followed by a second, proclaiming, "Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication." [REV. 14:8] This message was understood by Adventists to be an announcement of the moral fall of the churches in consequence of their rejection of the first message. The proclamation, "Babylon is fallen," was given in the summer of 1844, and as the result, about fifty thousand withdrew from these churches.
The term Babylon, derived from Babel, and signifying confusion, is applied in Scripture to the various forms of false or apostate religion. But the message announcing the fall of Babylon must apply to some religious body that was once pure, and has become corrupt. It cannot be the Romish Church which is here meant; for that church has been in a fallen condition for many centuries. But how appropriate the figure as applied to the Protestant churches, all professing to derive their doctrines from the Bible, yet divided into almost innumerable sects. The unity for which Christ prayed does not exist. Instead of one Lord, one faith, one baptism, there are numberless conflicting creeds and theories. Religious faith appears so confused and discordant that the world know not what to believe as truth. God is not in all this; it is the work of man,--the work of Satan.
In Revelation 17, Babylon is represented as a woman, a figure which is used in the Scriptures as the symbol of a church. A virtuous woman represents a pure church, a vile woman an apostate church. Babylon is said to be a harlot; and the prophet beheld her drunken with the blood of saints and martyrs. The Babylon thus described represents Rome, that apostate church which has so cruelly persecuted the followers of Christ. But Babylon the harlot is the mother of daughters who follow her example of corruption. Thus are represented those churches that cling to the doctrines and traditions of Rome and follow her worldly practices, and whose fall is announced in the second angel's message.
The close relation of the church to Christ is represented under the figure of marriage. The Lord had joined his people to himself by a solemn covenant, he promising to be their God, and they pledging themselves to be his, and his alone. Said Paul, addressing the church, "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." [2 COR. 11:2.] But when her confidence and affection were turned away from him, and she sought after vanity, and allowed the love of worldly things to separate her from God, she forfeited the privileges included in this peculiar and sacred relation. By the apostle James those who assimilate to the world are addressed as "adulterers and adulteresses." [JAS. 4:4.]
A profession of religion has become popular with the world. Rulers, politicians, lawyers, doctors, merchants, join the church as a means of securing the respect and confidence of society, and advancing their own worldly interests. Thus they seek to cover all their unrighteous transactions under a profession of Christianity. The various religious bodies, re-enforced by the wealth and influence of these baptized worldlings, make a still higher bid for popularity and patronage. Splendid churches, embellished in the most extravagant manner, are erected on popular avenues. The worshipers array themselves in costly and fashionable attire. A high salary is paid for a talented minister to entertain and attract the people. His sermons must not touch popular sins, but be made smooth and pleasing for fashionable ears. Thus fashionable sinners are enrolled on the church-records, and fashionable sins are concealed under a pretense of godliness. God looks down upon these apostate bodies, and declares them daughters of a harlot. To secure the favor and support of the great men of earth, they have broken their solemn vows of allegiance and fidelity to the King of Heaven.
The great sin charged against Babylon is, that she "made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication." This cup of intoxication which she presents to the world, represents the false doctrines which she has accepted as the result of her unlawful connection with the great ones of the earth. Friendship with the world corrupts her faith, and in her turn she exerts a corrupting influence upon the world by teaching doctrines which are opposed to the plainest statements of the word of God.
Prominent among these false doctrines is that of the temporal millennium,--a thousand years of spiritual peace and prosperity, in which the world is to be converted, before the coming of Christ. This siren song has lulled thousands of souls to sleep over the abyss of eternal ruin.
The doctrine of the natural immortality of the soul has opened the way for the artful working of Satan through modern Spiritualism; and besides the Romish errors, purgatory, prayers for the dead, invocation of saints, etc., which have sprung from this source, it has led many Protestants to deny the resurrection and the Judgment, and has given rise to the revolting heresy of eternal torment, and the dangerous delusion of Universalism.
And even more dangerous and more widely held than these are the assumptions that the law of God was abolished at the cross, and that the first day of the week is now a holy day, instead of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment.
When faithful teachers expound the word of God, there arise men of learning, ministers professing to understand the Scriptures, who denounce sound doctrine as heresy, and thus turn away inquirers after truth. Were it not that the world is hopelessly intoxicated with the wine of Babylon, multitudes would be convicted and converted by the plain, cutting truths of the word of God. The sin of the world's impenitence lies at the door of the church.
God sent his professed people a message that would have corrected the evils which separated them from his favor. A state of union, faith, and love had been produced among those who from every denomination in Christendom received the Advent doctrine; and had the churches in general accepted the same truth, the same blessed results would have followed. But Babylon scornfully rejected the last means which Heaven had in reserve for her restoration, and then, with greater eagerness, she turned to seek the friendship of the world.
Those who preached the first message had no purpose or expectation of causing divisions in the churches, or of forming separate organizations. "In all my labors," said Wm. Miller, "I never had the desire or thought to establish any separate interest from that of existing denominations, or to benefit one at the expense of another. I thought to benefit all. Supposing that all Christians would rejoice in the prospect of Christ's coming, and that those who could not see as I did would not love any the less those who should embrace this doctrine, I did not conceive there would ever be any necessity for separate meetings. My whole object was a desire to convert souls to God, to notify the world of a coming Judgment, and to induce my fellow-men to make that preparation of heart which will enable them to meet their God in peace. The great majority of those who were converted under my labors united with the various existing churches. When individuals came to me to inquire respecting their duty, I always told them to go where they would feel at home; and I never favored any one denomination in my advice to such."
For a time many of the churches welcomed his labors; but as they decided against the Advent truth, they desired to suppress all agitation of the subject. Those who had accepted the doctrine were thus placed in a position of great trial and perplexity. They loved their churches, and were loth to separate from them; but as they were ridiculed and oppressed, denied the privilege of speaking of their hope, or of attending preaching upon the Lord's coming, many at last arose and cast off the yoke which had been imposed upon them.
In the days of the Reformation, the gentle and pious Melancthon declared, "There is no other church than the assembly of those who have the word of God, and who are purified by it." Adventists, seeing that the churches rejected the testimony of God's word, could no longer regard them as constituting the church of Christ, "the pillar and ground of the truth;" and as the message, "Babylon is fallen," began to be proclaimed, they felt themselves justified in separating from their former connection.
Since the rejection of the first message, a sad change has taken place in the churches. As truth is spurned, error is received and cherished. Love for God, and faith in his word, have grown cold. The churches have grieved the Spirit of the Lord, and it has been in a great measure withdrawn. The words of the prophet Ezekiel are fearfully applicable:
"Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumbling-block of their iniquity before their face. Should I be inquired of at all by them?" "I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols." [EZE. 14:3, 4.] Men may not bow down to idols of wood and stone, but all who love the things of the world and take pleasure in unrighteousness have set up idols in their hearts. The majority of professed Christians are serving other gods besides the Lord. Pride and luxury are cherished, idols are set up in the sanctuary, and her holy places are polluted.
Anciently the Lord declared to his servants concerning Israel: "The leaders of this people cause them to err, and they that are led of them are destroyed." [ISA. 9:16.] "The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means, and my people love to have it so; and what will ye do in the end thereof?" [JER. 5:31.] "For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them, every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest, every one dealeth falsely." [JER. 6:13.]
The Jewish church, once so highly favored of the Lord, became an astonishment and a reproach through neglect to improve the blessings granted them. Pride and unbelief led to their ruin. But these scriptures do not apply to ancient Israel only. The character and condition of many nominally Christian churches are here portrayed. Though in possession of far greater blessings than were granted to the Jews, they are following in the steps of that people; and the greater the light and privileges bestowed, the greater the guilt of those who permit them to pass unimproved.
The picture which the apostle Paul has drawn of the professed people of God in the last days is a sad but faithful delineation of the popular churches of our time. "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof," "lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God," "lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud," [2 TIM. 3:2-7.]--such are a few specifications from the dark catalogue which he has given. And in view of the frequent and startling revelations of crime, even among those that minister in holy things, who dare affirm that there is one sin enumerated by the apostle which is not concealed under a profession of Christianity?
"But what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?" "And what concord hath Christ with Belial?" "And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean, and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." [2 COR. 6:14-18.]
At the proclamation of the first angel's message, the people of God were in Babylon; and many true Christians are still to be found in her communion. Not a few who have never seen the special truths for this time are dissatisfied with their present position, and are longing for clearer light. They look in vain for the image of Christ in the church. As the churches depart more and more widely from the truth, and ally themselves more closely with the world, the time will come when those who fear and honor God can no longer remain in connection with them. Those that "believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness," will be left to receive "strong delusion," and to "believe a lie." [2 THESS. 2:11, 12.] Then the spirit of persecution will again be revealed. But the light of truth will shine upon all whose hearts are open to receive it, and all the children of the Lord still in Babylon, will heed the call, "Come out of her, my people."