J.C. Ryle, 1886
2 Timothy 3:1-5
"But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come! For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!"
The subject which forms the title of this paper, deserves very serious consideration. The passage of Scripture which heads this page is one which ought to make all Englishmen think.
Are we in "the last days" of which Paul speaks? Here is a picture of them drawn by the unerring hand of an inspired apostle. Do we see nothing like it in the world around us? Are we sure there is nothing like it in our own land at this very moment? These are very solemn questions. They ought to ring in our ears like the blast of a trumpet at midnight!
I am no prophet. I never forget that we are poor judges of our own days. I will not undertake to say positively that the end of the world is at hand. But I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that we live in very "perilous times." I firmly believe that there has seldom been a period in the history of this country, when there has been so much to fill an Englishman's mind with anxiety. Never, I am sure, has there been a period, when it was so necessary for every English Christian to stand to his arms, to be at his post, and to do his duty.
I. In the first place, I will show in what respect our times are specially "perilous."
I am going to write things which will not please everybody. I am prepared for that. "If I yet pleased men — I would not be the servant of Christ." Some will think me to be a foolish alarmist, and deny that there is any danger. Be it so. The faithful prophets are never popular. Wicked King Ahab said of the faithful prophet Micaiah, "I hate him; for he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil" (1 Kings 22. 8). None are so blind as those who will not see. Some will think me to be a gloomy, melancholy man, and charge me with ignoring the immense amount of good that is going on in the country. Be it so. Nothing is easier than to look at only one side of the account, and from that one side to draw a very wrong conclusion. No doubt there is a great amount of good, but side by side there is even a greater amount of evil. I stand to my point. Whether men will hear me or not, I say that here in England we are living in "perilous times."
(a) The times are perilous in the matter of RELIGION.What are the facts?
Infidelity abounds. Multitudes of people in every part of the country seem to have totally cast off all religion. They go neither to Church nor Chapel. They openly sneer at the Bible, as an old-fashioned, defective book, and give God no place in their thoughts. Is not this perilous?
Romanism is increasing. Real Popery has revived, and extreme Ritualism is helping it. Multitudes of Churchmen are little better than Papists! They scoff at Protestantism and the Reformation. They delight in the very Popish ceremonial which our forefathers deliberately rejected. They avow their belief in the worst and most mischievous Popish doctrines, and boldly preach, teach, and defend them. Is not this perilous?
Indifferentism grows everywhere. Multitudes seem to care nothing about the distinctive doctrines of Christianity, and to perceive no difference between truth and error. Everybody is thought right — and nobody is wrong! It is thought that religion is "only a matter of words and names" — and it does not matter a jot what a man believes! Is not this perilous?
Religious divisions are painfully numerous. Every year they seem to increase and multiply. Between Church and Dissent — between High Church and Low Church and Broad Church — between Baptists and Pseudo-Baptists — between Plymouth Brethren and all other Christians — how vast the gulfs of separation! Yet division is a sure sign of weakness. "A house divided against itself cannot stand." English Christianity cannot stand much longer in its present rent, and torn, and convulsed condition. Surely this is perilous!
I go a step further.
(b) I say that the times are perilous in the matter of morality.What are the facts?
Look at the drunkenness of the times. In spite of Christianity, temperance, teetotalism, and education — we are a very intemperate people. The number of public-houses, gin-palaces, and beer-shops in every large town — tells a tale which cannot be mistaken. The sums of money spent in liquor and beer every year are perfectly astonishing! The testimony of judges and magistrates about the effects of drinking, as a main cause of crime, is enough to make one's blood run cold. Is not this perilous?
Look at the immorality in our times. I do not only allude to the coarser forms of sin in this respect, when I say this, though I might say much. I have in view the wide-spread decay of morals among young women of all classes. I challenge anyone to deny that novels and romances are read now-a-days in many a household, which contain scenes and descriptions that would not have been tolerated thirty years ago. There is a hideous familiarity with that which is "racy" and indelicate. Is not this perilous?
Look at the covetousness of our times. I do not speak so much of miserly habits, as of the intense love of money which overspreads all classes. To pile up a fortune in a few years, to speculate successfully, to obtain the power of every kind of self-indulgence at a bound — how thoroughly this is the life of many people! The history of joint-stock companies, and banks, and railways, in the last few years — is a disgraceful tale, and shows how men will do anything to get money. Is not this perilous?
I go a step further.
(c) I say that the times are perilous in a POLITICAL point of view. What are the facts?
The mad love of change seems to be carrying men of all parties before it, like a flood. Clamor and murmuring are allowed to have all their demands gratified. Reason, and argument, and the lessons of experience — are thrust aside in the face of any popular outcry. Highly educated statesmen do not try to lead the people, but allow the people to lead them. Mob-law and mass meetings are the honored institutions of the day. The masses, so called, are the idol to which all bow down. Power is thrust into the hands of the poorest and most ignorant people — almost unasked and unwished for. Our rulers coolly pass sweeping measures into laws, which they tell us are "a leap in the dark," and an experiment! High statesmanship seems thrown to the winds, and expediency is the only principle of government. Is not this perilous?
Nor is this all. Religion is gradually being elbowed and jostled out of Parliament; and the less it is named there, the better both Lords and Commons are pleased. The barriers and safeguards against Popery, which our forefathers placed round the British Constitution — are one by one kicked down, ignored, or thrown overboard. Faster and faster the process goes on every year. In fact, at the rate we are moving, many of us may live to see a Papist on the throne of England — or a republican form of government in the place of a monarchy — or a totally secular form of national education — or the Pope allowed to celebrate mass at St. Paul's Cathedral — or the national debt repudiated — or the House of Peers abolished — or the landed gentry and nobility stripped of their hereditary property — or Popery re-established as the dominant Church!
As monstrous and absurd as these things may sound, there is not one of them which seems impossible to me at the present rate of progress. I see nothing too monstrous to happen, under the influence of the prevailing mania for giving way to clamor, and for incessant change. The devil of political disorganization seems to be thoroughly unchained and let loose in England; and I defy any one to say what may not happen before long. Is not this perilous?
I go one step further.
(d) The times are perilous in a SOCIAL point of view.What are the facts?
The whole framework of society appears to be falling to pieces. The mutual respect that ought to exist between class and class, old and young, superior and inferior — seems to be fast melting away and disappearing. Between rulers and subjects, between parents and children, between masters and servants, between employers and employed — there no longer exist the healthy relations that there once were. Everyone wants to be master. Everybody wants his own selfish interests alone to be considered — and nobody thinks of his neighbor. A fierce intolerance of any opposition or interference may be observed on every side. Calm and dispassionate discussion is scouted. What may we learn from strikes, dynamite outrages, Irish murders, boycotting, anti-rent paying, and wholesale intimidation?
These things all tell one tale. They show that the cement has fallen out of the walls of society. The whole machine is unscrewed, and unpinned, and out of order! The very foundations of our social fabric are giving way. Is not this perilous?
I touch on all these things very slightly. I might easily add dark colors to the picture. But I have said enough, I suspect, to set any sensible man thinking. I have brought forward facts, plain facts, which I defy anyone to dispute about Romanism, morality, politics, and social order. I say confidently that the existence of these facts justifies the assertion with which I began. They prove that our times are "perilous times."
Now I am one of those old-fashioned people who believe that God's eyes are always upon nations, and that He deals with them even now according as they deal with Him. I believe implicitly that "righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" (Proverbs 14.34). I cannot see false religion increasing, the tone of morality lowering, expediency becoming the leading principle of governments, social order breaking up — I cannot see all this without many fears. I fear for the future of my country, as an Englishman. I fear for the future of my children, when I am dead, as a father. I fear for the future of English religion, as a Christian. I fear for the general cause of morality and order throughout the world, which England always influences.
If things go on as they do much longer — there will be a fearful crash some day. God's patience will be exhausted, and He will let loose on us some fearful judgment! If things go on as they do much longer, the sun of old England will go down amidst a hurricane of confusion and trouble, such as the world has never yet seen.
II. I will now show, in the second place, what are OUR SPECIAL DUTIES at the present crisis.
I address myself in this part of my paper especially to all who profess and call themselves Christians. I turn to those who believe that the Bible is true, and that Christianity is the real strength of a nation. I call on all such persons, by whatever name or denomination they may be called, to awaken and be doing. I tell them that in these "perilous times" Christ expects every English Christian to do his duty. There is yet hope. It is not too late to win the battle.
We must not be cowards, because the times are perilous. "If we faint in the day of adversity — then our strength is small." Greater is He who is for us — than all who are against us. God Himself is on our side. If we are genuine Christians, and true-hearted Englishmen — if the blood of Wycliffe, and Ridley, and Latimer, and Hampden is in our veins — we need not be afraid to contend earnestly for truth, and to resist sin.
We must not sit still and attempt nothing, because our numbers are small. The three hundred who followed Gideon were worth more than the whole host of the Midianites. It is minorities and not majorities, that in every age have spread truth, put down error, and shaken the world. To crouch down in a corner, with affected humility, and say "it is no use to attempt anything, because we cannot do everything" — is a most mischievous course. It may please the devil, but it offends God.
We must not fold our arms and say, "I have no influence, and can do nothing. The times are perilous, I grant, but I can do no good." This is nothing but laziness! Every man and woman on earth has some influence, and every one is accountable to God for using it aright. Whether in town or in country, whether in crowded London or in the least rural hamlet — every one can do something to mend the times. God expects every one to do what he can.
(a) Our first duty is to make sure work of the salvation of our own souls.Let us never rest until we know and feel that we ourselves have got hold of thorough-going, solid Bible religion — and that we are justified, converted, and saved. If Church and State and society are all alike going to pieces and foundering under our feet — then let us give all diligence to know that we have a sure home in Heaven. Surely when all around us is cracking, heaving, and reeling towards a fall — then it is no time to he halting between two opinions, and leaving doubtful our own interest in Christ. O no!
The first lesson that "perilous times" should teach, is a very plain one. They cry aloud, with no uncertain voice, "Are you safe? Are you in Christ? Do you read your Bible? Do you pray? Is your heart changed? Escape for your life! Why do you tarry? Come into the ark! Come into the ark — before the flood begins!"
(b) Our second duty is to PRAY night and day that God may intervene, and drive back the flood of evil which seems bursting on our country.All who pray for themselves can do something here. So long as Abraham prayed for Sodom, his prayer was heard. When Herod put forth his hand against the Church, slew James, and put Peter in prison — then the prayers of the Church were heard. And God is not changed. He still holds the hearts of rulers and statesmen in His hands, and can make them do whatever He wills. He can raise up champions for the truth, and turn the counsels of Popish and infidel Ahithophels to foolishness. If the times are so "perilous" at this moment, then "Let us pray."
(c) Our third duty is to work hard to maintain true religion, and to oppose error.With the Bible in our hands and Bible arguments on our lips — let us never be afraid to meet the Papist, the semi-Papist, the worldling, and the Sadducee. Let us boldly tell the Romanist that Christ is the only true Priest, and that until he can make a new Bible, he can never show us a foundation for his doctrines. Let us boldly tell the infidel that until he can explain away the resurrection of Christ, the spread of Christianity in the world, the fact of the Bible being the book that it is — we laugh at his assaults. Let us boldly remind the politicians who would shut out the Bible from the council chamber and the school, that without the Bible their vaunted liberty would never have existed. Let us proclaim fearlessly, both in public and in private, our entire belief in the divine authority of God's word. No man on earth has such a right to be bold, as the believer in the Bible.
(d) Our fourth duty is to impress on all around us the immense importance of the fifth and seventh commandments.It is clear as daylight to my mind, that myriads of my fellow-countrymen are forgetting these two mighty laws of God. Ignorance of the spirit of the fifth commandment is the true secret of the abounding social disorder that we see around us. Ignorance of the spirit of the seventh commandment accounts for much of that fearful immorality which is creeping into all classes of society. One remedy for "perilous times" is more full preaching of God's law.
(e) Our fifth duty is to cultivate and press on all around us a spirit of cheerfulness and contentment.Let us constantly remind all whom we meet, what immense cause we have for thankfulness, even in the imperfect condition of things in which we live in England. Let us bid men look abroad and mark the condition of other lands. Let us challenge them confidently to name a single country on earth where there is . . .
such liberty for all,
such equal rights for all,
such security for life and property,
such a clear stage for every one
— as we have here.
Nothing is easier than to find fault. No people on earth are more fond of grumbling than English people. It is a downright national sin! It ought to be denounced and cried down both publicly and privately, a thousand times more than it is. If English people were not so foolishly ready to magnify the defects of their own condition, and to overlook its advantages — the trade of English mob-leaders would soon come to a standstill. In times like these it is of the utmost importance to be continually saying, "Know your privileges! Learn to be more thankful! Do not meddle with those that are given to change!" (Proverbs 24.21).
(f) Our sixth duty is to support the government in every time of disorder and riot, and to come forward heartily in aid of the law.The government of the day, no doubt, may make mistakes. Its members are only men, and not infallible. But the worst government, is better than no government at all. "The powers that be, are ordained of God" (Romans 13.1). To support the government in maintaining law and order, and in putting down confusion, is not only a prudent act, but a plain Christian duty. The man who takes the law into his own hands, and injures life and property in carrying out his own views — is one with whom no Christian ought to have the slightest sympathy. The blind intolerance of those politicians who denounce everyone who does not agree with them, as an enemy to mankind — is a spirit which comes from beneath, and not from above.
The servant of that God who bears with such a mass of infirmity as He sees in His people, should strive to be like his Master. He should urge patience and tolerance in political matters on every one whom he meets. He should denounce and oppose violence and intimidation, not merely as follies, but as sins. In times like these, it is a positive Christian duty to be on the side of order.
(g) Our last, but not our least important duty, is to be continually looking for the coming and kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.This is the great event which will wind up the affairs of all nations. Then, and then only, will sin, disorder, and superstition be put down completely, and come to an end.
When shall that event take place? I cannot tell. "Of that day and hour — no man knows." But I can bring before my readers a passage of Scripture which I commend to their special attention.
"There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Luke 21:25-28
I make no comment on these words of my Master. I place them before my readers in their naked simplicity, and prefer letting them speak for themselves. If the words of the apostle which begin this paper, and the words of the Lord Jesus which I have just quoted, only set my readers thinking — then I shall be abundantly thankful.
We are in the last days — and perilous times have come!