The Evidence That The Church Of God Is About To Close Its Earthly History
Even in apostolic days the near return of the Lord Jesus was ever kept before the souls of believers as a present hope; yet there are many scriptures that in a hidden way (as we can now realize) intimated a certain series of events, or succession of conditions, which would run their course ere the blessed hope was fulfilled. In the wisdom of God these prophetic forecasts of the Church's history were couched in terms of such a nature as not to hinder Christians of any period in their continued expectancy of the Lord's coming, which was designed to be a great sheet-anchor to their souls, keeping them from drifting into worldliness and kindred folly.
But now that nearly twenty centuries (two of God's great "days"—2 Peter 3:8) have elapsed, we can look back over the long course of the Church's pilgrimage and see how all her varied states and experiences were foreknown and foretold, and the heart thrills with joyful expectancy as we look ahead. For the next great miraculous event must be the shining forth of the Morning Star, "the coming of the Lord Jesus, and our gathering together unto Him."
I purpose to trace this out from several different standpoints. In our introduction we have noticed briefly how the Lord Himself intimated what has been mentioned in the parable of the ten virgins. It was a veiled picture of the whole course of Christendom, and plainly divides the Church dispensation into three distinct stages, or epochs: First, the period of eager expectation. Second, the era of lethargic indifference to the blessed hope. Third, the season of awakening which was the almost immediate precursor of the coming of the Bridegroom. We are living in this last solemn time, and it is well to be trimming our lamps and waiting in holy fear for the summons which may come at any moment to enter in with Him to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
The parable of the Ten Virgins was not given, it is true, to teach Church truth, but it presents in a graphic way the responsibility of saints to wait for the return of the Lord.
There are other passages corroborative of this interpretation, and to them let us now turn.
In the two epistles to Timothy we have two distinct conditions predicted as characterizing what the Holy Spirit designates "the latter times" and "the last days." In 1 Timothy 4:1-5 He speaks of the first of these periods; in 2 Timothy 3:1-9, of the second. A careful reading of both passages ought, I think, to convince any reader that they show the progress of evil.
At any rate, the conditions of the "latter times" were the first to develop, and out of these grew the anarchic state of the "last days."
I quote the first scripture in full: "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared (Gk., cauterized); forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer" (1911 Version).
Now while the various things here credited to demoniacal influence are found in many modern systems, such as Christian Science, Seventh-day Adventism, and others, it is very evident that it was in connection with the Romish apostasy they were first introduced. The "latter times" were the times of Papal domination. Their evil teachings are still to be found on many sides, but the point I want to make is that the latter times have long since been passed, and we are further down the course of time than many have supposed.
Note well how Rome has fulfilled these predictions to the letter. Departing from the faith of God's word, she has been misled by evil spirits seducing her devotees to believe that the church cannot err, and that her voice is the voice of inspiration. Thus has Satan foisted doctrines of demons on the blinded nations. Rome, the very citadel of untruth, has spoken lies in hypocrisy, her leaders having cauterized consciences which seemed immune to all Scriptural appeals. This the Reformation proved, when God "gave her space to repent... and she repented not" (Revelation 2:21).
But one might say: "All this is mere assumption. You tell us Rome is demon-led. You tell us her hierarchy teach lies in hypocrisy. But this is the very point to be proven. What outward evidence have you that she is the guilty one?"
In reply we turn to verse 3, where God has given us two great marks which none can successfully deny fit Rome, as they fully describe no other large communion. It was Rome who forbade to marry—enjoining an unnatural celibacy upon her vast clergy and her hosts of monks and nuns, thus setting herself up to be wiser than God (who says: "Marriage is honorable in all," Hebrews 13:4), belittling His holy ordinance of matrimony, declaring the celibate nun far holier than the married mother, and the unwedded priest in a higher state of grace than the godly husband and father.
And what of the second mark? Who has so assiduously cultivated the dogma that piety is manifested in abstention from certain foods, as Rome? God created all to be received with thanksgiving. Rome would damn the one who ate flesh on Fridays and gave God thanks therefor! Her numberless rules on such subjects declare all too plainly that she it is who is marked out in 1 Timothy 4:1-5. Others have been deluded by the same demons, but it was in the Roman apostasy that the "latter times" came in.
Now let us turn to the second epistle: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be self-lovers, money-lovers, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, unforgiving, false accusers, incontinent, savage, haters of good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; from such turn away. For of this sort are they who creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with manifold desires, ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all, as theirs also was" (1911 Version).
These are the great outstanding features of the "last days"—closing the Church dispensation, and to be immediately followed by the coming of the Lord. Can any believer in Holy Writ doubt our being now in the very midst of them?
But it may be here objected: "When have men in general been other than as here depicted? Is not this but a repetition, of what Paul has already said in describing the heathen world in his day? (Roman 1:29-32). In what special sense are they any more characteristic now than then?" To these very natural queries I reply: "Such things, indeed, ever described the heathen; but in 2 Timothy 3 the Holy Spirit is describing conditions in the professing Church in the last days! It is not the openly wicked and godless who are being depicted here. It is those who have a form of godliness, while denying its power. This is what makes the passage so intensely solemn and gives it such tremendous weight in the present day. There are twenty-one outstanding features in this depicting of Church conditions in the last days, and that each may have its due weight with my reader I touch briefly on them in order.
1. "Men shall be self-lovers." It is men self-occupied, as contrasted with the godly of all ages who found their joy and delight in looking away from self to God as seen in Christ. This is the age of the egotist in matters spiritual as well as carnal. They find their God "within" them, we are told, and not without. They make no secret of it. When they profess to love God it is themselves they love.
2. "Money-lovers." Is it necessary to speak of this? Colossal fortunes heaped together by men who profess to believe the Bible and its testimony! What a spectacle for angels and demons! There was one Simon Magus of old. He has myriads of successors in the professing church today, and the command "not to eat" with a covetous man or an extortioner is in most places a dead letter indeed.
3. "Boasters." Read the so-called Christian papers; attend Christendom's great conventions of young people, or old. Listen to the great pulpiteers of the day. What is their theme? "Rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing!" Great swelling words are rapturously applauded by people dwelling in a fool's paradise, even when uttered by men who are tearing the Bible to shreds, and who deny practically every truth that it contains.
4. "Proud." So proud as to glory in their shame—congratulating themselves on the very things the Word of God so unsparingly condemns. Proud of their fancied superiority; proud of their eloquence; proud of their miscalled culture; proud of their very impiety, which is hailed as the evidence of broad-mindedness and a cultivated intellect! How nauseating it must all be to Him who said, "Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart."
5. "Blasphemers!" Yes, there it is—that big, ugly word that one hesitates to use, but which is chosen by the Holy Spirit Himself to describe the men drawing salaries as ministers of Christ who use their office to impiously deny His name! Blasphemers! Aye, the whole host of the new theologians, miscalled "higher critics," and all their ilk—all who deny the deity of the Son, His virgin-birth, His holy humanity—blasphemers, every one, and as such to be judged unsparingly in the harvest of wrath so near at hand! And think of the disloyalty to Christ of Christians—real Christians, I mean—who can sit and listen to such men week after week, and are too timid to protest, or too indifferent to obey the word, "From such turn away!"
6. "Disobedient to parents." It is one of the crowning sins of the age, and indicates the soon breaking-up of the whole social fabric as at present constituted. Opposition to authority is undoubtedly one of the characteristic features of the times. Children will not brook restraint, and parents have largely lost the sense of their responsibility toward the rising generation. Does this seem unduly pessimistic? Nevertheless, a little thoughtful consideration will, I am sure, convince any reasonable person of its truth. And it may be laid down as an axiom, that children not trained in obedience to parents will not readily be obedient to God. We have been sowing the wind in this respect for years, as nations and as families. The reaping of the whirlwind is certain to follow.
7. "Unthankful." It is the denial of divine Providence—utterly forgetting the Source of all blessings, both temporal and spiritual. Straws indicate the turn of the wind, and even in "so small a matter," as some may call it, as the giving-up of the good old-fashioned and eminently scriptural custom of thanksgiving at the table, we may see how prevalent is the sin of unthankfulness among professed Christians. Go into the restaurants or other eating-houses; how often can you tell the believer from the unbeliever?
8. "Unholy." The godly separation from the world according to the Bible is sneered at as "bigotry" and "Puritanism." In its place has come a jolly, rollicking worldliness that ill comports with the Christian profession. Piety—that characteristic Christian virtue—how little seen now! It is not necessary to be outwardly vile to be unholy. Giving up the line of separation between the believer and the unbeliever is un-holiness.
9. "Without natural affection." The foundations of family life are being destroyed. Un-scriptural divorces and all their kindred evils cast their dark shadows over the professing church, as well as over the body politic.
Of the next unholy octave I need not write particularly. To enumerate them is enough to stir the heart and appal the soul when it is remembered how they are tolerated and spreading through the great professing body. 10—"unforgiving;" 11—"false accusers" (let us beware lest we be found almost unwittingly in this Satanic company!); 12—"incontinent"; 13—"savage"; 14—"haters of good;" 15—"traitors"; 16—"heady;" 17—"high-minded." This last accounts largely for the daring things proudly uttered by learned doctors against the Scriptures and the great fundamentals of the faith, and complacently accepted by unregenerate hearers. Surely, the time has come "when they will not bear sound teaching, but according to their own desire shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears" (2 Timothy 4:3, 1911 Version).
18. "Lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God." Would you not almost think the words were written by some fiery-souled exhorter of the present day? How aptly they characterize in one brief clause the greatest outstanding feature of the religious world. The Church of God has gone into the entertainment business! People must be amused, and as the Church needs the people's money, the Church must, perforce, supply the demand and meet the craving! How else are godless hypocrites to be held together? How otherwise can the throngs of unconverted youths and maidens be attracted to the "services"? So the picture-show and the entertainment, in the form of musicale (sacred, perhaps!) and minstrel-show, take the place of the gospel address and the solemn worship of God. And thus Christless souls are lulled to sleep and made to feel "religious" while gratifying every carnal desire under the sanction of the sham called the Church!—And the end? What an awakening!
19. "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." Men must have some form of religious expression, and so the outward thing is sustained after the life is gone out of it. Thus formality prevails where regeneration, conversion to God, the Spirit's sanctification, and everything really vital has long since been virtually denied. The bulk of so-called church-members do not even profess to have been saved, or to be Spirit-indwelt. All this is foreign to their mode of thought or speech. The gospel, which alone is "the power of God unto salvation," is seldom preached, and, by the mass, never missed! Could declension and apostasy go much further? Yet there are still lower depths to be sounded!
20. Feminism. No, you won't find the word—but read verse 6 again, slowly and thoughtfully. Does it not indicate a great feminist movement in these last dark days? "Silly women, laden with manifold desires"—craving what God in His infinite wisdom has forbidden them: authority, publicity, masculinity, and what not? Thus they leave their own estate and make a new religion to suit themselves. Is it a matter of no import that just such emotional, insubject women were the tools used by Satan for the starting and propagating of so many modern fads? Need one mention Mesdames Blavatsky, Besant and Tingley of Theosophy; the Fox sisters' relation to modern Spiritism; Mrs. Mary Baker Glover Eddy and her host of female practitioners in the woman's religion miscalled "Christian Science;" the neurotic Ellen G. White and her visionary system of "Seventh-day Adventism;" Ella Wheeler Wilcox and her associates in the spreading of what they have been pleased to denominate the "New Thought," which is only the devil's old lie, "Ye shall be as gods," in a modern garb; and the women-expounders of the "Silent Unity," or "Home of Truth" delusions? All these are outside the "orthodox" fold;—but when we look within, what a large place has the modern feminist movement secured in the affections of women who profess to believe the Bible, but who unblushingly denounce Paul as "an old batchelor" with narrow, contracted ideas, little realizing that they are thereby rejecting the testimony of the Holy Spirit. It is one of the signs of the times, and clearly shows towards what the professing body is so rapidly drifting!
21. "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth"—and that by their own confession. They are "truth-seekers." Ask them if it be not so. They confess it without a blush, and consider it humility thus to speak. According to these apostates, the Church which began as "the pillar and ground of the truth," is, in this twentieth century of its existence, "seeking" the truth, thereby acknowledging they never yet have found it! Truth-seekers! Yet the Lord Jesus said, "I am the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life." Why then seek further? Because they have drifted away from Him and His Word, so they go on, ever learning, ever seeking, and ever missing the glorious revelation of the TRUTH as it is in Jesus.
Well—this is the end. Declension can go no further than to deny the Lord that bought them, until He Himself shall remove His own to the Father's house. Then the apostate body remaining will declare, "We have found the truth at last!" and they will worship the Antichrist, believing the devil's lie and calling it the truth. And how comes such delusion? "And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie; that they all might be judged who believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12-1911 Version).