Discerning the times
Among these last were many of the children of Issachar; and the Holy Spirit gives them a special word of praise. He says, “They were men that had understanding of the times.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ blames the Jews, because they “knew not the time of their visitation,” and did not “discern the signs of the times” (Luke 19:44; Matt. 16:3).
Next to our Bibles and our own hearts, our Lord would have us study our own times.
The words which Bishop Butler wrote in 1736 are curiously applicable to our own days;
“It is come to be taken for granted by many people, that Christianity is not even a subject of inquiry, but that it is now at length discovered to be fictitious. And accordingly they treat it as if, in the present age, this was an agreed point among all people of discernment, and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of mirth and ridicule, as it were by way of reprisals for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world.”
When you cannot answer a skeptic, be content to wait for more light; but never forsake a great principle. In religion, as in many scientific questions, said Faraday, “The highest philosophy is often a judicious suspense of judgment.” He that believes shall not make haste: he can afford to wait.
When skeptics and infidels have said all they can, we must not forget that there are three great broad facts which they have never explained away, and I am convinced they never can, and never will. Let me tell you briefly what they are. They are very simple facts, and any plain man can understand them.
- a. The first fact is Jesus Christ Himself. If Christianity is a mere invention of man, and the Bible is not from God, how can infidels explain Jesus Christ? His existence in history they cannot deny. How is it that without force or bribery, without arms or money, He has made such an immensely deep mark on the world as He certainly has? Who was He? What was He? Where did He come from? How is it that there never has been one like Him, neither before nor after, since the beginning of historical times? They cannot explain it. Nothing can explain it but the great foundation principle of revealed religion, that Jesus Christ is God, and His gospel is all true.
- b. The second fact is the Bible itself. If Christianity is a mere invention of man, and the Bible is of no more authority than any other uninspired volume, how is it that the book is what it is? How is it that a book written by a few Jews in a remote corner of the earth, written at distant periods without consort or collusion among the writers; written by members of a nation which, compared to Greeks and Romans, did nothing for literature—how is it that this book stands entirely alone, and there is nothing that even approaches it, for high views of God, for true views of man, for solemnity of thought, for grandeur of doctrine, and for purity of morality? What account can the infidel give of this book, so deep, so simple, so wise, so free from defects? He cannot explain its existence and nature on his principles. We only can do that who hold that the book is supernatural and of God.
- c. The third fact is the effect which Christianity has produced on the world. If Christianity is a mere invention of man, and not a supernatural, divine revelation, how is it that it has wrought such a complete alteration in the state of man kind? Any well–read man knows that the moral difference between the condition of the world before Christianity was planted and since Christianity took root is the difference between night and day, the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of the devil.
Now I do beseech all who read this message to beware of this undecided state of mind in religion. It is a pestilence which walks in darkness, and a destruction that kills in noonday. It is a lazy, idle frame of soul which, doubtless, saves men the trouble of thought and investigation; but it is a frame of soul for which there is no warrant in the Bible, nor yet in the Articles or Prayer Book of the Church of England. For your own soul’s sake dare to make up your mind what you believe, and dare to have positive distinct views of truth and error. Never, never be afraid to hold decided doctrinal opinions; and let no fear of man and no morbid dread of being thought party–spirited, narrow or controversial, make you rest contented with a bloodless, boneless, tasteless, colorless, lukewarm, undogmatic Christianity.
I entreat my readers, beside the Bible and Articles, to read history, and see what Rome did in days gone by. Read how she trampled on liberties, plundered your forefathers pockets, and kept the whole nation of England ignorant, superstitious and immoral. Read how Archbishop Laud ruined church and state, and brought himself and King Charles to the scaffold by his foolish, obstinate, and God displeasing effort to unprotestantize the Church of England.
Read how the last popish King of England, James II, lost his crown by his daring attempt to put down Protestantism and reintroduce popery. And do not forget that Rome never changes. It is her boast and glory that she is infallible, and always the same.
We need to examine more closely such portions of our Lord Jesus Christ’s teaching as the sermon on the mount.
…I am afraid, are well acquainted with the first eleven chapters of the Epistle to the Romans, but know comparatively little of the five last.
Oh, that people would remember that it was not the wind, or the fire, or the earthquake, which showed Elijah the presence of God, but “the still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12).
That saying of our Master is sadly overlooked: “Enter into your closet and shut the door” (Matt. 6:6).
Their converts, I suspect, like the old–fashioned cloths and linens, wore better, and lasted longer, and faded less, and kept colour, and were more stable and rooted and grounded than many of the newborn babes of this day. And what was the reason of all this?
Simply, I believe, because they gave more attention to private religion than we generally do. They walked closely with God and honored Him in private, and so He honored them in public. Oh, let us follow them as they followed Christ! Let us go and do likewise.