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 Pet. 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 Tim. 4:1-5 He speaks of the first of these periods; in 2 Tim. 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” (Rev. 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,” Heb. 13: 4), be-littling 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 Tim. 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? (Rom. 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 Tim. 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 to-day, 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 pres- ent 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 Tim.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 in- finite 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 Thess. 2:11, 12—1911 Version).
Predictions of two directly opposite conditions are made in the word of God in regard to events to be consummated immediately before the Lord’s return to establish His kingdom and close up the Times of the Gentiles. If therefore we see these predictions within a small degree of being already fulfilled prior to the rapture of the Church, we may be certain that the coming of the Saviour to the air is very near at hand.
The predictions referred to were made—one directly by the Lord Himself; the other by the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul. To the question of the disciples, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming and of the end of the age?” the Lord gave a lengthy answer recorded in Matthew, chaps. 24 and 25; but the prediction I refer to now is that of the 14th verse of chap. 24: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all the nations; and then shall the end come.” Now I recognize, in common with others, a distinction in aspect between “the gospel of the kingdom” and “the gospel of the grace of God,” but I regard it as a mistake to say that the gospel of the kingdom is not, or should not be, preached now. Each are but different aspects of the one gospel; and Paul preached both.
In Acts 20: 24, 25 we find the two aspects intimately connected in the ministry of the apostle Paul: “None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.” See also Acts 14: 22. When he wrote, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus,” it involved the present phase of the gospel of the kingdom; when he added, “And believe in thy heart that God hath raised Him from the dead thou shalt be saved,” it was the gospel of the grace of God. Christ Jesus is Lord. He is also Redeemer. Men are called on to own Him in both characters. In the Jewish age, and in the coming tribulation period, the gospel of the kingdom is the emphatic phase. Now, where there is intelligence, it is the grace of God that the gospel preacher will lay special stress upon.
Now it is the individual believer who owns the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Tribulation era, when Matt. 24:14 will be completely carried out, the whole world will be called on to own the sway of Him who is about to appear as King of kings and Lord of lords to reign over His world-kingdom.
But why this effort to show that the gospel of the kingdom is now being preached? Because, my reader, the end comes when it has been carried into all the world, for a witness! And even now it has gone to the uttermost parts of the earth, so that it can confidently be said that with the possible exception of a few wild tribes of Indians in South America, or negroes in Africa, , there is probably no nation to whom the witness has not already been given. The nineteenth was the greatest missionary century since the days of the apostles. In one hundred years, the gospel was practically carried to the whole world after a millennium of lethargy and indifference to the claims of the heathen. This great missionary awakening is like the trumpet-blasts that herald the King’s approach. In this twentieth century the work of carrying the gospel to the pagan world has gone on more extensively than ever. None can say when the last tribe or nation will get the witness message, but when they do, “then shall the end come.” And, mark it well, it is not before the rapture, but after it, that the final call is to be given. It will be Jewish saints, and not Christian missionaries, who will complete the work of world-wide evangelization; therefore the coming of the Lord as predicted in 1 Thess. 4 must be very near!
But now we turn to consider the other prediction to which I referred in the beginning. “That day,” writes the apostle, “shall not come except there come the apostasy first” (literal rendering of 2 Thess. 2:3). This is startling surely—the gospel going into all the world, the apostasy sweeping all before it, and both just before the end, or the day of the Lord, shall come! How strange a paradox, and yet how exactly are both scriptures being fulfilled! Never before such wide-spread missionary activity! Never before such far-reaching apostasy! Earnest workers guided by the Holy Spirit are hazarding their lives to carry the good news of Christ’s incarnation, atonement, resurrection and coming again to the heathen world. Equally earnest, but Satan-inspired, men at home are tearing the Bible in pieces and railing at these very truths once for all delivered to the saints, and, alas! their unholy rationalizing is fast finding its way into the fields of missionary endeavor, where education is taking the place of the gospel; and culture, charac- ter-building, and various accomplishments are put in place of the Son of God, the Saviour of sinners!
Theological seminaries, in many instances, are hot-beds of infidelity. Schools and colleges are busy, as Harold Bolce graphically expressed it, in “blasting at the Rock of Ages.” The rising generation in so-called Christian lands bids fair to be a generation of Bible-rejectors. “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?” That end is almost upon us, and “When the Son of Man cometh shall He find the faith on the earth?” It is fast being supplanted by human speculations and “oppositions of science falsely so-called.”
The leaven of man-worship is rapidly leavening the whole lump and preparing the way for Antichrist who shall, if it were possible, deceive the very elect. Thank God, it is not possible; but it behooves every regenerated soul to hold fast to the revealed Word of God and utterly refuse the lying systems of the enemy. To sit in churches and listen to preachers of the apostasy, or to support such in any way, is treason against Christ! “He that biddeth him [the false teacher] God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”
It would be a great mercy if every converted person would refuse positively to listen twice to a minister who denies the inspiration of the Bible, or to give a penny to a church or a missionary society that gave the right hand of fellowship to men of this type. To stay the on-rushing apos- tasy is impossible. To protest against it and to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkess” is a positive duty.
Reader, let me press my point again.—The world-wide gospel proclamation and world-wide apostasy at the same time are clear proofs that the end is close upon us! It is too late to trifle. Let us be in earnest for the few remaining hours!
Another line of evidence is presented in the seven prophetic letters of Rev. 2 and 3. For that they are prophetic, and not merely moral—dispensational, and not simply local in their application—is a fact now familiar to many earnest students of the Scriptures. The proof of this is found in their exact correspondence with the seven stages of the history of the Church on earth. This is incontrovertible, however self-styled optimists may object to it—the objection being chiefly based on the fact that Laodicea closes the septenary series, thus precluding all thought of a triumphant Church and a converted world at the end of the dispensation. Yet the Church shall be triumphant; of that there should be no question. For our Lord Jesus has solemnly declared, “Upon this Rock (Christ as Son of the living God) I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” But between the Church of Christ’s building and the vast complex church of man’s devising there is a great difference. The real Church will be triumphantly raptured to glory ere the judgments fall on the great apostate mass of Laodicea.
I do not therefore attempt to prove by argu- ment that the seven letters give us an outline of the Church’s course from apostolic days to the closing up of the present age. This has been so well done by others that it would be on my part a work of supererogation to try to make it any more convincing.1 I only desire in these necessarily brief pages to refresh the memory of my reader by pointing out how aptly those letters fit the history.
Ephesus then, from this view-point, presents the Church in apostolic days—an unworldly, called-out company who labored earnestly and well in making known the riches of grace, and who walked apart from iniquity; unable to bear those who were evil, as indeed these in turn could not endure the company of God’s redeemed, for we read elsewhere, “Of the rest durst no man join himself to them.” In those days of primitive simplicity men were tried by the testimony they brought, and if they spoke not according to the doctrine of Christ were rejected as “liars”—a “short and ugly word” that aptly designates many profane hucksterers of the Word of God to-day.
But the picture has its shadows too, for even during the very lifetime of the apostolic band declension began: the Church left her first love, and a somewhat mysterious form of evil, the “deeds of the Nicolaitanes,” came in, though largely against the desire of the mass, for Ephesus is commended because of hatred to this unholy thing. Leaving their first love was losing the sense of Christ’s presence: occupation with work, with service, took the place of heart-occupation with Himself. No sect of the Nicolaitanes is known, though some have tried to link the name with the reputed followers of an apostate Nicholas, traditionally held to be one of the seven of the 6th of Acts, who were set apart to serve tables. He is supposed to have taught his disciples that the indulgence of licentious practices was not inconsistent with the grace of God. This, however, is very uncertain and largely conjectural. They seem to be right who consider “NicolaitanQs” to be an untranslated Greek word, properly rendered “rulers of the people.” In that case Diotrephes of 3 John would be a typical Nicolaitane, who has had many successors. It would be the divine condemnation of the clerical sytem. Not yet had this system become an accepted doctrine, but the deeds manifested the spirit behind it. Crystallization into an accredited dogma came later (Rev. 2:15).
The second period followed apace, as set forth in the letter to Smyrna. It depicts, as by a few master-strokes, the tragedy of the Pagan persecutions in their efforts to crush Christianity beneath the iron heel of the Roman emperors, from Domitian to Diocletian. Nero’s persecution was local rather than general, but the monster who succeeded him set in motion a world-wide effort to destroy the Church of Christ. Historians count ten general persecutions, which are connected with ten main edicts of the emperors. The last under Diocletian went on for ten years, ceasing only with the death of the incapacitated tyrant. “Ye shall have tribulation ten days” seems to hint at this. But a suffering Church is more likely to be rich in faith than a Church fawned upon by the world; though in deepest poverty the Church in the Smyrna age was “rich,” and prospered, for as Augustine later said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Those dark days were days of Christian devotion and heroism unparalleled save in similar times of suffering and danger. And yet the picture is not altogether bright, for the clear gospel of grace was largely obscured by the legal teaching of “those who said they were Jews and were not.” Such are a synagogue of Satan. Judaism was a divine institution, Christianity is a divine revelation. But the strange mixture of Judaism with Christianity is of Satan. It is a corruption and a counterfeit; and “the corruption of the best thing is the worst of corruptions.”
Pergamos followed this, and gives us the period of the Church’s relief from persecution and her subsequent union with the world. It is the era of Constantine the Great and his successors, when the Church became the pet of the emperors (save for a brief period under Julian the Apostate), and Church and State were linked in an unholy alliance. Thus the Church sat at ease where Satan had his throne, clung to this for centuries, until the world itself wearied of her, and wrenched her from her place of power. He who is familiar with Church history can scarcely read the Perga- mos letter without the vast pageant of the fourth century passing before the eye of his mind. The death of Diocletian; the temporary triumph of Maxentius; the Gallic legions hastening eastward led by Constantine; the famous vision of the fiery cross; the “in hoc signo vinces” portent; the Christians coming forth into the glare of publicity from the dens, caves and catacombs which had been their hiding places for so long; the bishops summoned to the general’s august presence; his endorsement of the new doctrine and intellectual conversion; the cross-led army driving all before it; the overthrow of Maxentius; Constantine hailed as Emperor of the world; proclaimed head of the church and pontifex maximus (the title of the head of the heathen hierarchy) ; the bishops seated among princes; the Church’s mourning over, her eyes dazzled by the unaccustomed luxury and splendor, basking in the imperial favor! Then the Arian controversy; Christ’s true deity denied, but maintained at the council of Nicea where despite tremendous pressure the Church “held fast His Name, refusing to deny His faith.” Of Antipas personally we know nothing, but we see in his very name (which means “against all”) the trumpet-note of Athanasius who, when a later Arian emperor sought to persuade him to endorse the hated Unitarian heresy by crying, “All the world is against you,” in holy dignity exclaimed, “Then I am against all the world.”
The Balaam doctrine too was openly advocated by many in those days, and since—urging the mingling of clean and unclean, the unequal yoke of the Church and world, a spiritual marriage, which “Pergamos” seems to imply; while Nicolai-tanism, or clerisy, had now become a full-blown doctrine, and the distinction between clergy and laity was at last complete. The Pergamos letter is a synoptic description of the conditions prevailing from the fourth to the seventh centuries.
And Thyatira followed as the natural result. Things were going down-hill with fearful rapidity. Yet the church of the middle ages was rich in works of mercy and abounded in “charity.” Her monasteries and hostelries dotted the lands and kept open house for the sick and distressed. But doctrinally she had deteriorated tremendously, and the Papal system was fully organized, becoming a church within the Church, to which all had to bow. It was the woman Jezebel teaching and leading the servants of God astray. As the heathen princess of old foisted her idolatry on Israel, so this false paganistic thing crowded out the Christianity of Christ and superseded it by a system unspeakably evil and inherently corrupt.
At the Reformation of the sixteenth century she was “given space to repent, but she repented not,” as the decrees of the Council of Trent bear witness. She spurned the light shining from the newly-recovered Scriptures and continued in her idolatrous course. For “her children” there is naught but death, though grace ever has discerned even in Rome a remnant having not known the depths of Satan, whom a gracious Lord owns as His and commands to cling to what they have till He shall come. It is the first intimation that declension has gone so far that His return is now the only hope.
For Sardis, though it speak of Protestantism and its great State churches, is not a true recovery. They had received a deposit of truth at the Reformation, which became crystallized into creeds and confessions but did not quicken the mass. So of the great Protestant bodies it can be said, “Thou hast a name that thou livest and art dead,” for churchmanship has largely been substituted for new birth, and orthodoxy for conversion to God. Yet there are a few with garments undefiled who know the Lord and love His truth, and who are exhorted to watch for His coming again!
Philadelphia speaks of the great revival period of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, assuming different forms in different places, but in all characterized by reality, by brotherly love, by clinging to Christ’s Word and honoring His Name who is the Holy and the True. They who take such ground will never be popular with the world or the world’s churches, but they will be content to know that God approves, and that the Lord Himself has opened for them a door of service which none on earth or anywhere else can shut. They wait in patience for the Morning Star—the Bridegroom’s symbolic title.
Laodicea closes the series. It is the solemn arraignment of latitudinarian Christianity with its pride and folly, marked by impudent self-conceit and utter indifference to Christ. It glories in its breadth and culture, its refinements of thought, and its refusal of ancient formulas. It congratulates itself on its wealth and following, while, in His sight who stands knocking outside, it is “poor and wretched and blind and naked.” All the church machinery can go on without His presence, and without any sense of His absence.
And this is the last state of the professing body on earth. When things are in this condition, the Lord Himself will come, and will spew out of His mouth that which is so distasteful and disgusting to Him. “After this,” says John, “I looked, and behold, a door was opened in heaven.” As he is caught up through that open door he beholds surrounding the throne in glory the true Church seated in triumph, as symbolized in the twenty-four elders.
Laodicea is the closing period of the Church’s history, and who can doubt that we have now reached the very time depicted? It behooves us to act as men who wait for their Lord, knowing that His coming cannot be much longer delayed.
We have thus glanced at various scriptures having to do with the evidences in the professing church of the Lord’s near return. We must now look at some movements among the nations which point unquestionably to the same thing.
1 The inquiring reader is referred to “The Prophetic History of the Church,” by F. W. Grant, 35 cts. Same publishers.