by Arthur W. Pink
When the superiority and supremacy of the bishop of Rome was acknowledged by the other bishops (at the beginning of the 7th century), the papacy rapidly developed and dominated the whole of Christendom. Romanism was a strange combination of Judaism and Paganism, thinly veiled by a Christian nomenclature. Idolatrous in doctrine, corrupt in practice, withholding from the people the pure Word of God, and making its appeal to the lusts of the flesh, millions of adherents were secured, but at the cost of quenching the Spirit. Most significant is it that men from within her own pale testified to Rome’s duplicity and wickedness. We quote from one such witness in the 11th century.
“Woe to this generation which hath the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy. If indeed that should be called hypocrisy, which now through its prevalence cannot be hid, and through its impudence seeks not to be hid. At present, rottenness and corruption affects the whole body of the Church, and the wider it spreads, the more desperate; and the more inwardly it spreads the more dangerous; for if an heretic, an open enemy, should rise up, he would be cast out; if a violent enemy, she (i.e., the Church), would perhaps conceal herself from him. But now, whom shall the Church cast out? or whom shall she hide herself from? All are friends, and all are enemies; all are in mutual connection as relations, yet in mutual contests as adversaries; all are fellow-members of one family, yet none are promoters of peace; all are neighbours, yet all are seekers of their own things; by profession servants of Christ, in reality they serve Antichrist; they make an honourable figure by the good things they have received from the Lord, while, at the same time, they give no honour to the Lord” (Bernard, sermon 33 on Canticles).
After the rise and domination of Romanism there followed what has been aptly termed “the Dark Ages,” for that Word of God which is to be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path, was publicly put out. Nevertheless, from the 7th to the 14th centuries God by no means left Himself without witnesses on earth. Claude in Italy and Gootschalk (old German for “the servant of God”) in Saxony preached the doctrine of grace in the 9th century. In the 11th century the Waldenses were active in evangelism all through the Alps. In England such men as Bede, King Alfred the Good, Anselm and Bradwardine (archbishops of Canterbury) in the 11th and 14th centuries and Wycliffe are well-known names. Peter Lombard and John Husse in Bohemia were mighty instruments in the hands of God long before the days of Luther and Calvin.
It is unnecessary for us to write about the grand Reformation of the 16th century, but it will be pertinent to give one brief quotation to show the almost incredible vileness of human nature as evidenced in the awful persecution to which the people of God were then subjected. Foxe’s book of Martyrs chronicles the murderous deeds of Rome in this country, but it is not so well-known what wholesale butchery took place in France. In his “History of Redemption,” Jonathan Edwards (a most cautious writer) says, “It is reckoned that about this time (1572) within thirty years there were martyred in France for the Protestant religion, 39 Princes, 148 Counts, 2,346 Barons, 147,518 Gentlemen, and 760,000 of the common people.” Were such a colossal tragedy to occur today how “students of prophecy” would make capital out of it! We spare our readers’ feelings by refraining from a detailed account of the barbarous methods employed in torture—far worse than any we have read that the Bolshevists use.
What we are now more concerned with is to observe the ebb of the Reformation tide and the rapid decay of piety which soon followed. “Go through all places, it shall be found that scarce one of a thousand in his dealings makes conscience of a lie: a great part of men get their wealth by fraud and oppression, and all kinds of unjust and unmerciful dealings...This doth appear to be true, by the practice and behaviour of men on the Lord’s day: if the number of those which come to hear God’s Word were compared with those which run about their worldly wealth and pleasure, I fear me the better sort would be found to be a little handful to a large heap, or as a drop to the ocean in respect of the other...Like to him (Herod) are many in these days, which gladly desire to hear the Gospel of Christ preached, only because they would hear speech of some strange things, laying aside all care and conscience to obey that which they hear. Yea, many in England delight to read the strange histories of the Bible, and therefore can rehearse the most part of it, yet come to the practice of it, the same persons are commonly found as bad in life and conversation, or rather worse than others...A rare thing it is to find the virtue of fidelity in the world now a-days: who is he that makes conscience of a lie? and is not truth banished out of our coasts?” (W. Perkins, 1595, Vol. 1, pp. 129, 154, 201, 275).
“Our lives shame us: open and manifest iniquities proclaim us unthankful. Fraud in our homes, drunkenness in our streets, oppression in our fields, adulteries in corners, corruption on benches...Irreligious and profane: other times have been notable for this, ours is notorious; the lusts of the flesh, if ever, are now manifest. Drunkenness reels in the streets, gluttony desires not to be housed. Bribery opens his hand to receive in the very courts. Robbery and murder swagger in the highways. Whoredom begins to neglect curtains, and grows proud of its impudence” (Thomas Adams, 1605, Vol. 1, pp. 131, 145).
“In 1623 Charles the First revived his father’s edict for allowing sports and recreations on Sunday to such as attended public worship, and he ordered his proclamation for that purpose to be read by the clergy after Divine service. Those who were puritanically affected refused obedience, and were suspended or deprived. Such encouragement and protection which the king and the bishops gave to wakes, church-ales, bride-ales, and other church festivals of the common people, were objects of scorn to the Puritan” (Hume the historian). There are few indeed today who have any conception of the fearful profligacy of that monarch’s court, the open immoralities which obtained in high places, the corruption of the law-courts, and the wickedness which abounded among the common people.
The servants of God who faithfully reproved and rebuked were no more popular then than they are now. Those who have uncompromisingly denounced wickedness, bade their hearers or readers repent of it, and threatened the everlasting wrath of God if they did not, have ever been unwelcome—thorns in the side of all who hate to have their consciences searched. “If a preacher reproves sin, he is thought to do it out of harshness or to be too bitter and uncharitable, and they say he should preach God’s love and mercy. Reprehension of sin is most condemned and least esteemed. But let a preacher preach dark mysteries and curious inventions, or odd conceits, and he will be widely welcomed” (Henry Smith, 1590, Vol. 2, p. 213).
In his comments upon “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness” (James 4:9), Thomas Manton (1660) said, “Frothy spirits love their pleasure and ease: ‘The fool’s heart is in the House of mirth’ (Eccl. 7:4). A loose, garish spirit doth not love to converse with mournful objects, or to be pressed to mourning duties. It showeth how instant and earnest we should be in pressing such duties as these: ‘weep,’ ‘mourn,’ ‘be afflicted.’ It is one of the fancies now in fashion that men would be altogether honeyed and oiled with grace; the wholesome severities of religion are distasteful. Some that would be taken for Christians of the highest form, are altogether prejudiced against such a doctrine as this is, and think we are legal when we press humiliation. How may the poor ministers of the Gospel go to God, and say as Moses did, ‘The children of Israel have not hearkened unto me, how then shall Pharaoh hear me?’ Lord, the professors will not brook such doctrine as this is, how shall we hope to prevail with the poor, blind, carnal world? Certainly it is very sad that that which was wont to be a badge of profaneness, men should now adopt it into their religion. I mean, scoffing at doctrines of repentance and humiliation” (Vol. 14, p. 374).
How shocked and saddened we are by what we now behold in the rising generation: their dislike of work, their mad craze for pleasure, their chaffing at all restraint. Yet the profligacy of youth and the present-day immodesty of the female sex, is no new thing. No, not even the modern craze of women bobbing their hair. Writing in 1620, Thomas Fuller, the Church Historian, said, “We see so many women so strangely disguised with fantastic fashions, yea, so many of them affecting man-like clothes and shorn hair, it is hard to discern the sex of a woman through the attire of a man.”
“I have often marveled at your youth, and said in my heart, What should be the reason that they should be so generally at this day debauched as they are? For they are now profane to amazement; and sometimes I have thought one thing, and sometimes another. At last I have thought of this: How if God, whose ways are past finding out, should suffer it to be so now, that He might make of some of them the more glorious saints hereafter? I know sin is of the Devil, but it cannot work in the world without permission; and if it happens to be as I have thought, it will not be the first time that the Lord hath caught Satan in his own design. For my part, I believe the time is at hand that we shall see better saints in the world than have been seen for many a day. And this vileness, that at present does so much swallow up our youth, is one cause of my thinking so” (John Bunyan, about 1655, out of “The Jerusalem Sinner Saved”).
In the account of her experiences, Mrs. Brine, wife of John Brine, minister at Cripplegate, wrote, “Thus I went on near fifteen years of age, about which time (A.D. 1700) it pleased God to awaken me, and bring me to consider what state I was in. One night, being in my usual manner at play with my companions, and hearing them sware at a sad rate, taking the Lord’s name in vain in almost every sentence they spoke; this I thought was not right in them, though I myself had much ado to keep from bad expressions” (from the collected writings of J. Brine, Vol. 1, p. 544). “Were children and youth ever more disposed to despise and abuse pious parental instruction, than at this day?” (about 1760). “Where is pious, parental instruction and faithfulness more despised and abused than in this place? Is there scarcely a pious child or youth to be found, even in religious families?” (Sermons of Nathaniel Emmons, Vol. 2, p. 122, Franklin, Mass., U.S.A.).
“Some of old thought that because they could cry, ‘The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord,’ that therefore they were delivered, or had dispensation to do the abominations which they committed. For who (say they) have a right to the creatures, if not Christians, if not church members? and from this conclusion, let go the reins of their inordinate affections after pride, gluttony, pampering themselves without fear, daubing themselves with the lust-provoking fashions of the times; to walk with stretched out necks, naked breasts, frizzled foretops, wanton gestures, in gorgeous apparel” (John Bunyan from the “Barren Fig Tree”). “The Apostle biddeth the women to cover their heads because of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:10), their fashion being to come into the congregation with loose disheveled locks; he mindeth them of the presence of the angels. We may use a like argument to women to cover their naked breasts, now their immodesty is grown so impudent as to out-face the ordinances of God” (Manton, Vol. 5, p. 250).
Today the godly are grieved by the lack of reality and genuineness in so many bearing the name of Christ—bemoaning the fact that so very few who claim to believe His Gospel give evidence in their daily lives that they have taken His yoke upon them. But the abounding of empty professors is no new thing, as the following quotations will show. “In this respect may these also be called ‘the outward court,’ who with impudence do arrogate to themselves the name of the Church, and under that name do in some places cast out the true worshippers; and who, by reason of their number—the best congregations of the first Reformation consisting of many more apparently bad than good—and many of those churches having none but men unregenerate” (Thomas Goodwin, about 1680, Vol. 3, p. 126).
“This is that apostasy which the Christian world groans under at this day (about 1660), and which, as is it is to be feared, will bring the judgments of God upon it. The very profession of piety is much lost, yea, much derided amongst many. . . Duties of holiness, strictness of conversation, communication unto edification are not only neglected, but scorned. It is in many places a lost labour to seek for Christianity among Christians; and the degeneracy seems to be increasing every day” (John Owen, Vol. 17, p. 475). “How few among the many, yea, among the swarms of professors, have heart to make conscience of walking before God in this world, and to study His glory among the children of men! How few, I say, have His name lying nearer their hearts than their own carnal concerns! Nay, do not many make His Word, His name, and His ways, a stalking-horse to their own worldly advantages? God calls for faith, good conscience, moderation, self-denial, humility, heavenly-mindedness, love to saints, and to enemies, and for conformity in heart and life to His will: but where is it?” (John Bunyan from “The Strait Gate”). “In those who enjoy the Gospel, profess the embracement of it, and yet continue unfruitful, none of all this appears. The world may make use of such barren souls as arguments that the Gospel is no such excellent doctrine, has no such Divine power or efficacy, produces no such desirable effects. For why? No such thing is visible in the temper of multitudes who profess that they believe it. They are but like other men, and exceed not many who were never acquainted with the Gospel: no more humble, no more holy, no more self-denying, no more public-spirited, no more heavenly-minded, no more mortified as to many lusts and passions, no more crucified to the world as to the riches, delights, and splendour of it, no more candid and sincere in dealings, no more merciful, no more active to do good in the world, no more fruitful in good works; and where is then the singular excellency and power of the Gospel? The light of nature has been effectual in some to restrain them from those enormities, from which many that enjoy the Gospel abstain not. O what dishonourable reflections doth this cast upon the glorious Gospel of Christ” (David Clarkson, 1680, Vol. 2, p. 397).
“We seem to grow weary of the name of Christ; and in the end of time mockers and atheistical spirits swarm everywhere; and the holy, meek, sober, humble, heavenly spirit seemeth to be banished out of the Christian world, but that a few broken-hearted souls keep it up. Partialities and sects are countenanced, while unquestionable duties are little regarded, except by those few who have the courage to live in a counter-motion to the practices of a loose age, by their holiness and serious regard to the hopes of another world” (Thomas Manton, Vol. 15, p. 309). “Our times may very justly be esteemed ‘perilous’ —difficult, troublesome, and dangerous; for many, who are of the religious profession, are manifestly under the influence of such vices as the Apostle in that place (2 Tim. 3) enumerates. Some are captivated by one, and others by other vices...In my opinion, they who make pretences to religion in words but in their behaviour are any way irregular, are the most dangerous companions a good man can intimately converse with— because he may be tempted to think that there is not much evil in this or that irregular practice through a charitable judgment he forms of the persons addicted to those practices . . .
“We have lost the chief glory of the Reformation, and the very life and soul of popery greatly flourishes amongst us, to our great scandal and the satisfaction of the Romanists. This is the dreadful condition of a multitude of those who pass under the denomination of Protestant Dissenters; and what will be the issue of these things, the Lord only knows . . . But few are careful to keep up family worship. There is reason to fear that it is very rarely practiced by many who would be thought to be Christians. The late hours of our clubs, which call for our attendance almost every evening, will not allow us time to give God thanks for the mercies of the day, to confess our sins to Him, and entreat His protection in the night in the presence of our children and servants. If worship is performed in the family at all, it is on the evening of the Lord’s Day, when alehouses cannot enjoy our company with any decency. This was not always the case; Professors formerly did not behave themselves in this manner; we are much degenerated in our conduct” (John Brine, about 1740, Vol. 1, pp. 306, 7, 14, 27).
“The Apostle Paul complained of professors who walked not according to the Gospel. There has been occasion for the same complaint ever since; but never more than the present. Many walk at this day who make some profession of Christ and yet never attain to any steadfastness, but are tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine; and at last come to nothing. Others, pretending to be better settled, attain to some form of godliness, but are without the life and power of it; they appear to have some notions about the way of righteousness, but not being taught them of God, nor ever brought under the mighty influence of them their walk is very uneven, and generally in the end brings great scandal upon the name and cause of Christ. We have also many at this day who set out in the ways of religion who never felt the plague of their own hearts; these are commonly very confident and presumptuous; they make a shining profession and go on with great parade until they be tried, and then, in the time of temptation, they fall away” (William Romaine, about 1770, “The Walk of Faith,” p. 4).
“With all the preaching and printing ‘tis but few indeed who know Christ and the power of His resurrection. I have been, you are, tried to the heart, to see how few know Him and have their minds enlightened by the glorious Gospel of the blessed God. Yet so it is, but here and there a person is really taken with the Lord” (S.E. Pierce’s Letters, 1796). “There are but few who have their minds enlightened so as to see the worth and beauty of the Lord Jesus. You may very easily discern it in conversation with the generality of professors: to get money is more with very many than to converse with Christ” (Ibid. 1808). “In some places I have found those who are alive to these great things, but the state of the Church of Christ is very low: truth very little known, less beloved and received than is commonly apprehended; anything and everything seems to go down except the truth as it is in Jesus. It is a great honour to live in such times as the present, when sin is rampant, and errors and heresies of all sorts abound—because the grace of God in preserving the feet of His saints, in keeping them alive in Christ, and delivering them from making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, is the more clearly evidenced” (Ibid. 1820).
There is nothing more outstanding today in the sad state of Christendom than the abounding of empty professors (those with a non-saving or dead faith), and as so many suppose that this is a certain precursor of the Great Apostacy which will mark the terminal of this age, we give further quotations to show that identically the same feature has prominently marked other generations in the past. “Christ is a Lord to command us to walk in the way of life. The fault of our times is that multitudes profess Christ, yet many allow of no Christ but of their own devising, namely, a Christ that must be a Saviour to deliver from Hell, but not a Lord to command them; that they cannot brook...Faith was never more professed, yet there was never less true faith” (Perkins, Vol. 2, pp. 163, 230). And this, be it noted, was in the palmy days of the Reformation!
“These are days wherein we have as sad and tremendous examples of apostasy, backsliding, and falling from high and glorious pitches in profession, as any age can parallel. As many washed swine returning to their mire, and as many Demases going after the present evil world, and men going out from the church which were never truly and properly of it, as many sons of the morning and children of high illumination and gifts sitting in darkness, and that of all sorts; as ever in so short a space of time since the name of Christ was known upon the earth. What through the deviating of some to the ways of the world, and the lusts of the flesh; what of others, to spiritual wickedness and abominations; it is seldom that we see a professor to hold out in the glory of his profession to the end” (John Owen, Vo1. 6, p. 123).
“It were enough to excite a smile if the subject was not too serious for laughter, to behold the seeming zeal with which numbers in the present day (A.D. 1800) are hastening to convert others, many of whom, it is to be feared, were never converted themselves; and to hear the indignation expressed by many against infidels, who, as far as relates to any saving work of grace wrought upon their own souls, are no less infidels under a different bearing. All such Christians are Christians only by system. Their creed is derived from their fathers, and is either the effect of habit or education” (Robert Hawker, Vol. 7, p. 500). As it is now, so it was then; as it was then, so it is now—thousands of nominal Christians engaged in “personal” and “missionary” work, who are ignorant of some of the most rudimentary principles of the Faith, working merely in the energy of the flesh.
How the true servant of God bemoans the lack of response today unto faithful preaching, the stolid indifference of his hearers: neither the terrors of the Law nor the attractions of the Gospel making any impression. Elderly evangelists are complaining how much rarer genuine conversions are now than they were thirty years ago. But this is no new thing. “This age is miserable if we regard the practice of faith and repentance which God requireth: for men live in ignorance, without knowledge, they go on in looseness of life without reformation, which is both odious to God and scandalous to men; not one in an hundred turn to God at the preaching of His Word, renewing his ways by daily repentance” (Perkins, Vol. 3, p. 249). “How many have melting hearts when they hear God blasphemed and the religion of Christ wronged? How few are there that yield to the motions of the Spirit! We may take up a wonderful complaint of the hardness of men’s hearts in these days, who never tremble at the Word of God. Neither His promises, nor threatenings, nor commands, will melt their hearts” (R. Sibbes, about 1630, Vol. 6, p. 40).
“We are fallen into times in which the thing and doctrine of it is forgotten and laid aside, in which there are multitudes of professors but few converts, many that seem to walk in the way of life, but never came in at the strait gate. There is a zeal amongst us to advance this or that reformation in religion, and it hath been all the cry. But, my brethren, where is regeneration called for or regarded? We have seen the greatest outward alterations that ever were in any age; kingdoms turned and converted into commonwealths, the powers of Heaven and earth shaken; but men, although they turn this way and that, from this or that way, from this opinion to that, yet their hearts generally turn upon the same hinges they were hung upon when they came into this world. In this University of Oxford we have had puttings out and puttings in, but where is putting off the old man and putting on the new? Where do we hear (as we did formerly) of souls carrying home the Holy Spirit from sermons, of their being changed and made new, and of students running weeping to their studies crying out ‘What shall I do to be saved?’ This was heretofore a common cry. Conversion is the only standing miracle in the Church, but I may truly say this miracle is well-nigh ceased; we hear of few of them” (Thomas Goodwin, 1670, Vol. 6, p. 157).
Nor is the low state of spirituality which now obtains so generally amongst those we have reason to believe are the Lord’s people, any new thing. “O that this union among saints was more conspicuous and evident. But with grief of heart be it spoken, little is to see of that, whilst much of that which is the opposite to it is everywhere too apparent. What schisms, rents, divisions are to be found even amongst the Lord’s people” (J. Jacombe, 1647, p. 55). “The English Christians heretofore were famous for their strict walking, constant communion with God, undaunted zeal, sweet experiences, holy conferences and communications, whereas now we meet with but such as are, like the vain men of Israel, of a light spirit, loose conversation; given to vain wranglings and disputes, more than to practicing a holy life, and measuring religion not so much by the power of godliness as by form and faction, and siding with parties” (Thomas Manton, Vol. 5, p. 424).
“We are departed from the Lord, and the Lord is in great measure departed from us. What a woeful withering wind has blown upon God’s vineyard in the land! We are fallen from our first love, our former zeal for God and His precious truths, and the royalties of our Redeemer’s crown. And is there not a lamentable decay as to the power and life of godliness, which has dwindled away into an empty form with the most? To conclude, it is not with the nobles, gentry, ministers, or people in Scotland, as once in a day it has been; and the worst of it is, that though it be so, though gray hairs are here and there upon us, yet we do not perceive it: we make our faces harder than a rock, and refuse to return to the Lord” (Eb. Erskine, about 1760, Vol. 1, p. 112).
“We live in a day when the love of many (of whom we would hope the best), is, at least, grown very cold. The effects of a narrow, suspicious, censorious and selfish spirit are but too evident amongst professors of the Gospel. If I were to insist at large upon the offenses of this kind which abound amongst us, I should seem almost reduced to the necessity either of retracting what I have advanced, or of maintaining that a great part (if not the greatest part) of those who profess to know the Lord, are deceiving themselves with a form of godliness, being destitute of its power: for though they may abound in knowledge and gifts, and have much to say upon the subject of Christian experience, they appear to lack the great, the inimitable, the indispensable criterion of true Christianity, a love to the brethren; without which all other seeming advantages and attainments are of no good” (John Newton, 1770, Vol. 1, p. 180). “Whether the present age be worse than others which have preceded it, I shall not determine [wise man!], but this is manifest, that it abounds not only in infidelity and profligacy, but with great numbers of loose characters among professing Christians. Even of those who retain a decency of character, many are sunk into a Laodicean lukewarmness” (Andrew Fuller, 1810, Vol. 4, p. 355).
Reference has previously been made to the fearful profligacy of the court of Charles the First, and the open wickedness which prevailed generally in this land throughout his reign. Under the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell conditions greatly improved, but after his demise (in 1658) and upon the enthronement of Charles the Second, the rivers of evil soon broke their banks, spreading moral desolation far and wide. “Few have any idea of the flood of ungodliness and profanity which characterized the reign of Charles II. It was not merely libertinism and the most unblushing profligacy which stalked abroad in open day, but the most avowed infidelity and coarsest profaneness. It was as if all Hell had broken loose; and as if ungodliness, chained up by the iron hand of Cromwell, would now take its full swing, and make ample amends for past deprivations. The Puritans, called so derisively from their purity of principle and conduct, were hooted down, and driven from society as disturbers of the public peace” (The Gospel Standard, 1852, p. 334).
“Alas, do not many prop up themselves in some earthly thing, as if there were no God in Israel to be sought unto; strengthening themselves in their own righteousness, as if there were no Mediator...I am sore afraid that most of the knowledge of God and Christ we have in this age (1670) is a mere notion of faith without value, like a ring without the diamond” (S. Charnock, Vol. 4, p. 58). In his dedication of George Swinnock’s “The Beauty of Magistracy,” Thomas Hall, addressing “All the prudent, zealous, and magnanimous Magistrates, Judges, and Gentry in England, Scotland, and Ireland, in September, 1659, began: ‘My Lords, and Gentlemen—The dedication of this treatise was intended for the Parliament, but that being dissolved, it most properly falls to you, who are, under God, the pillars of the state. Such is the corruption of the times we live in, that we are put to dispute every inch of the way with enemies of truth—Magistracy, ministry, Sabbaths, sacraments, Trinity, Scriptures: all things are now questioned, nothing believed or practiced by many’ ” (Swinnock’s Works, Vo1. 4, p. 147).
“How is this land filled with sin, yea, with the worst of sins, against the Holy One of Israel. Hell seems to be broken loose, and men try to exceed, and excel one another in all kinds of wickedness. Oh the scarlet sins that are now to be found under many scarlet robes! [Romanist Bishops.] Oh the black transgressions that are now to be found under many black cassocks! [Priests.] Oh the new-found oaths, the hellish blasphemies, the horrible filthiness, and abominable debaucheries that are committed daily in the face of the sun! How shameless, how senseless are sinners grown in these days! Sin everywhere now appears with a whore’s forehead. What open opposition does Christ meet with in His Gospel, offices, members, ways, worship, and works! How does all iniquity abound, and how bold and resolute are multitudes now in dishonouring of God, in polluting His ordinances, in destroying their own souls, and in treasuring up of wrath against the day of wrath (Rom. 2:5)! But the worse the times are, the better every Christian must labour to be; the more profane the age is wherein we live, the more holy must we endeavour to be” (T. Brooks, 1650, Vol. 4, p. 364).
“Wickedness like a flood is like to drown our English world; it begins already to be above the tops of the mountains; it has almost swallowed up all: our youth, our middle age, old age. O debauchery, debauchery, what hast thou done in England! Thou hast corrupted our young men, hast made our old men beasts; thou hast deflowered our virgins, and hast made numerous whores; thou hast made our earth to reel to and fro like a drunkard; it is in danger to be removed like a cottage; yea, it is, because transgression is so heavy upon it, like to ‘fall and rise no more’ (Isa. 24:20). O that I could mourn for England, and for the sins that are committed therein, even while I see that, without repentance, the men of God’s wrath are about to deal with us (Ezek. 9:1, 2). Well, I have written, and by God’s assistance shall pray, that this flood may abate in England; and could I but see the tops of the mountains above it, I should think these waters were abating. “It is the duty of those that can, to cry out against this deadly plague; yea, to lift up their voice as with a trumpet against it, that men may be awakened about it, fly from it, as from that which is the greatest evils. Sin pulled angels out of Heaven, pulls men down to Hell, and overthroweth kingdoms. Who that sees the land in danger, will not set the beacons on a flame? Who that sees the devils as roaring lions continually devouring souls, will not make an outcry? But above all, when we see sin, sinful sin, swallowing up a nation, sinking of a nation, and bringing its inhabitants to temporal; spiritual, and eternal ruin, shall we not cry out, ‘They are drunk, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink; they are intoxicated with deadly poison of sin, which will, if its malignity be not by wholesome means allayed, bring soul and body, estate and country, and all, to ruin and destruction’ ” (John Bunyan, 1660, from “The Life and Death of Mr. Badman”). And for such faithful witnessing Bunyan was cast into prison.
One of the saddest features of our day is the blatant and almost universal desecration of the Holy Sabbath. Yet other ages besides ours have been cursed with the same fearful sin. “Men make this their business: they will be rich, and hence it is they are not only unmerciful to themselves in wearing and wasting their own spirits with carking cares, but to such also as they employ; neither regarding the souls or bodies of men: scarce affording them the liberty of the Lord’s Day (as has been too common in our Newfoundland employments), or if they have it, yet they are so worn out with incessant labours that that precious time is spent either in sleep or idleness. It is no wonder God gives you more rest than you would have, since that day of rest hath been no better improved. This over-doing hath not been the least cause of our undoing” (John Flavell, 1660, Vol. 5, p. 272). It has long been our own conviction that the frequent spectacle of millions of artisans, in different countries, being out of work, is a Divine judgment for so much labour upon His day.
“In these late years how has profaneness, like a flood, broke in upon us on the Lord’s Day! And therefore it highly concerns all the profaners of God’s Sabbath to lay their hands upon their hearts, and to say, The Lord is righteous, the Lord is righteous, though He has laid our habitations desolate. Who is so great a stranger in our English Israel as not to know that God was more dishonoured on the Sabbath, within and without the walls of London, than He was in all the other six days of the week? and therefore let us not think it strange that such a fire (the terrible fire of London in 1666) was kindled on that day as has reduced all to ashes. What antic habits did men and women put on, on this day! What frothy, empty discourses and intemperance was to be found at many men’s tables this day! How were ale-houses, stews, and Moorfields filled with debauched sinners this day! No wonder then if London be laid desolate” (Thomas Brooks, 1667, Vol. 6, p. 114).
We are not unmindful of the fact that some evilly-minded persons may be inclined to turn to a wrong use of what has been advanced, making the same a cloak for their own carnality, arguing that they are no worse, nay, not so bad as many who lived in by-gone days. Nor must Christians persuade themselves that they are obliged to swim with the tide, that in view of the degeneracy of our days it cannot be expected that they should be as godly and fruitful as if they had lived during a time of spiritual revival. Let each of us earnestly endeavour to take to heart and turn into fervent prayer those timely words of Thomas Brooks, “The worse the times are, the better every Christian must labour to be; the more profane the age wherein we live, the more holy must we endeavour to be.”
Nor are we unmindful of another danger. In discovering that the evils of our decadent age are but fresh outbursts of those moral and spiritual diseases which have often plagued previous generations, we lose or lessen our horror and sorrow over the wickedness which now stalks through the world. May God graciously deliver us from stoical indifference at the sad sights which now stare us in the face on every hand. God has promised a special blessing to those who “sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done” in our land (Ezek. 9:4). Let us seek to drink more deeply into the spirit of Him who wept over Jerusalem. Finally, let us marvel and adore the infinite patience of Him who “bears with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.”
Originally edited by Emmett O'Donnell for Mt. Zion Publications, a ministry of Mt. Zion Bible Church, 2603 West Wright St., Pensacola, FL 32505. www.mountzion.org