Let me begin by saying that I appreciate the choice of the theme – Signs of the Time. This shows that you as Young People are aware of the dreadful evil of our times, and that you take the nearness of Christ’s coming seriously. That is a good sign. Especially, I appreciate the topic assigned to myself – Signs in the Church. Every minister would covet speaking on that topic. As under shepherds of Christ’s flock the condition of the church in our day is of special concern to us.
We speak of serious things, things which involve the name of our God and His truth. And from many points of view we speak of grievous matters, matters which have eternal consequences for those who may be close to us. The Christian Church of our day is in a dreadful state. This is true both with respect to her preachers and her hearers, both with respect to doctrine and to walk of life. She is in the midst of a great apostacy, a departure from the truth.
As we look at the signs in the church which speak of imminent judgment we want to look at them from the point of view of both the pulpit and the pew. Christ speaks of both in Matthew 24. In verse 11 he states, “And many false prophets shall rise.” That is the pulpit. In verse 12 he states, “The love of many shall wax cold.” That is the pew. The apostle Peter speaks of both in I Peter 2: 1,2. There he speaks of false teachers “who shall privily bring in damnable heresy,” (referring to the pulpit), and also warns that “many shall follow their pernicious ways; ” (referring to the pew). Apostacy involves both the pulpit and the pew. We shall look at each in turn and also see their relationship to each other.
We must begin by examining the pulpit, the preaching, because that is where apostacy begins through heresy. It begins with wolves in sheep’s clothing who seek to scatter the flock. The question is, where does one start one’s examination? The pulpits are ripe with false doctrine. Heresies are coming so thick and fast, two by two as it were, that one cannot even keep abreast of developments. If we were to try tonight to deal with every species of heresy we would soon have enough material to fill Noah’s ark. The church is being drowned in a deluge, a flood of false doctrine. As Christ stated, “MANY
false prophets shall rise.” Indeed they have risen. Their name is Legion, though they say that their name is Reformed, and Christian, and Protestant. In the name of Christ protestant preachers call into question everything from creation to the resurrection, and deny everything from Total Depravity to the Virgin Birth. Yet they claim to be Christians, and are horrified if you call them false prophets and declare that they teach “doctrines of devils”. They assure you that it is not so. Rather they do this as service to the Lord, and in the best interests of the church. With such men protestant churches have to deal.
The great problem and evil of our day is that Protestant pulpits are filled with Pontius Pilots. Ministers have assented to the murder of the truth, and then have piously washed their hands of the deed. Have they not simply given the people what they have been clamoring for? The reoccurring question raised on Protestant pulpits is the same as Pilot’s cynical response to Christ on trial, namely, “What is truth?” They ask this question while looking directly at the Word of God! Men ordained to point to Christ as the way, the truth, and the life, who are called to declare “Thy word is truth.”, and that the truth shall set men free, ask “What is Truth?”!
Protestant theologians, at least, used to hold up the Bible in response to that question and say, “Here is THE TRUTH! It is that from cover to cover. It is the infallible, inerrant, inspired, and perspicuous word of God. It is the absolute standard of all spiritual reality, the compendium of our faith, and the only standard by which we must live.” Such Protestant theologians once declared. No longer! Now the Bible is simply one perspective of the truth, (of which there are many), as seen through the slanted eyes of ancient men. Therefore, it is historically inaccurate, scientifically primitive, and morally out of date. Protestant men, mind you, say that of the Holy Scriptures. Sons of the very churches which were unshackled from Rome by an insistence upon Scripture’s ultimate authority over every tradition of men, now despise that very scripture. And they work the hardest to undermine its trust-worthiness.
The upshot of the matter is that the Christian church is not to imagine that it has an absolute standard of truth in its hands. We are to approach the Bible not with child-like faith, but with the skepticism of the scholar. We are told that to confess “sola scriptura” is not of the spirit of Christian love, but is religious bigotry. No wonder thousands upon thousands turn to the sects and cults. They at least claim to have absolute standards of truth. People feel more secure in these states of pretended certainty than in the pews of hesitant Christianity.
Things are bad in Protestantism today. How bad? Things are so bad in many protestant churches that on such vital truths as the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, and the fact of the resurrection, and on such practical issues as divorce and remarriage, and abortion, we find ourselves to be more in agreement with Rome than with many so-called Protestants. If that does not show how far things have slipped, nothing will. Protestants make Rome look almost orthodox at times. I say this not out of any admiration for Rome, who remains as idolatrous as ever, but to show how bad things are. It is an utterly astounding thing. Protestants have gone farther in the way of heretical teachings than Rome. They dare to deny doctrines of the Scriptures and the ancient creeds that even Rome does not.
The Reformation sufficed to cause a re-formation of the church in Luther’s day, a cleansing and a rededication to the truth. I will make so bold as to say that there is no reformation that can revitalize the apostate church of our day. In Luther’s day members of the Roman Catholic church could be revitalized because they lived in ignorance of the Scriptures. The Word was deliberately kept from them. But once the scriptures were preached to them, their eyes were opened, and they saw the Light. Such is not the case today. Ignorance of a different sort characterizes people today, a willful ignorance. Men know about the truth, and they despise it. They are a people who seeing, see not, and who hearing, hear not. They are a people whose “heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest at any time . . . they should be converted.” (Matt. 13:15) There is only one cleansing that remains for the apostate church of our day, namely, a being rooted up, cast out, and burned.
Such is the bitter fruit of the teaching of the false prophets. They have brought in damnable heresy, devil contrived doctrines, and so as Peter states in I1 Peter 2: 1,2, “They bring on themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; whose . . . damnation slumbereth not.”
So one certain sign of the church’s ripening for final judgment is her pulpit’s deceitful and wicked denial of Scripture’s infallibility as well as of its authority.
Today the Devil adds mischief to evil not by keeping Scripture from men, but by printing such a bewildering variety of translations, so called, and of paraphrases that men become confused as to what God’s word really does say. The Devil uses men who play fast and loose with Bible translation. Thus he sows seeds of confusion. That’s his mischief. And by means of these unfaithful “translations” false prophets can deny every fundamental doctrine and find support for every false one.
Young People, be not deceived. You have an excellent translation in the King James Version. It is the best available by a long shot. They say it is not clear. Of course not, not if you do not study it. It is perfectly clear if you read it enough to become familiar with it. It omits no true doctrine, it supports no false one. Make it your companion. Knowledge of this faithful translation is your best defense against heretics.
Do not forget, heretics are always to be found in the church, seeking to deceive God’s people. They are many and persistent. Heretics are not always so blatant and forward in their propagation of false doctrine. At first they creep in unawares, privily, secretly bringing in damnable heresy, as the Apostle Peter states. They even use Reformed language at first. Ask them whether they maintain the Sovereignty of God and salvation all of grace, and they will answer, “Oh, of course.” And they will speak of justification and the atonement too. They have a reformed vocabulary, but they are deceitful.
Let us use an example. It is common for theologians to speak of God’s Sovereignty and even to use the word “election”. But, they will not speak of Double Predestination, namely, of election and reprobation, the eternal decree of damnation. They want election without reprobation. And so, accordingly, they have manufactured a one-sided coin. It is a trick worthy of Houdini. That is exactly what it is, a trick, a deception. It is counterfeit, and must be viewed as such. Many have bought it and have been deceived. It is worthless. Be not deceived. Such men speak of God’s Sovereignty in salvation, but really they teach a salvation by the will of man. And their God is a God desiring the salvation of all, though all are not saved. Such an election is without power.
So heretics speak the language of the church, and people are deceived by the millions. Be not deceived. Inquire more closely as to their precise meaning. Make them define their terms, and then compare those with the definitions of the creeds. Then they will be exposed. That is why heretics hate the creeds. The creeds make clear how reformed terms are to be defined and interpreted. Heretics are then exposed for what they are, wolves in sheep clothing, as prophets devoid of the true words of God. For that reason you must know the creeds, to make heretic’s work of deception that much more difficult.
We turn now to the pew.
We must understand that not only do false prophets bear responsibility for the apostacy evident in protestant churches of our day, but the pew also bears great responsibility. There is no apostacy, unless the pew co-operates. False prophets cannot flourish in a church where they get no hearing, where the pew protests immediately, (not two or three generations down the line), and where the elders are zealous to discipline. Apostacy is nipped in the bud where there is a zealous love for the truth, where members care more about the truth than about the feelings of nice men. After all, heretics are always nice men, men with attractive personalities and smooth of speech. They have the heart of a wolf, but, remember they have the demeanor of a sheep. Beware!
The point is, in our day the pew supports and encourages false prophets. They like men who say what they want to hear. They do not like men like the bold Elijah, or the persistent Jeremiah. They do not like men like the staunch Athanasius, or the crusty Gomarus (foe of Arminius), or like our blunt old Ophoff. Such men put the truth before popularity. Rather the pew likes men who speak soothing words, who have a certain sophistication, men who are more concerned with a following than about principle. They like men who hurt no one’s feelings, men who seek to convict no one of the guilt of sins. Such men the pew welcomes more and more in our day.
Christ, of course, predicted this. He stated, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” Jesus is talking about members of the Christian church. Their love waxes cold, their love for the truth, for God’s name, and for their being subject to His good commandments. That’s how it is today. Iniquity abounds and people are numb to it and are numbed by it. People of the church become so engrossed with the pleasures of worldly entertainment and business that their flame sputters. In a few generations it goes out completely. Their love for God and truth is blown cold by the icy blasts of worldliness. And as their love for God’s word flickers and wanes false prophets multiply like rabbits, wax bold as lions, and like dragons dare to expound bigger and bigger lies, denying the most fundamental truths. And people swallow them whole. This appeals to them.
This should not come as a surprise. Paul forwarned Timothy, “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.” (I1 Timothy 4:3) Paul is warning of coming apostacy in the pew. Apostacy begins with a generation that is indifferent to spiritual things, both in doctrine and in walk. They are permissive. They are willing to put up with a little heresy. After all, it is not worth splitting over. They just hope it goes away of itself. But it never does. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump,
In time there comes a generation whose souls are absolutely vexed by sound doctrine. They simply cannot endure it. It sets their teeth on edge. So they shut their pulpits to those who preach the truth. They develop what Paul calls “itching ears.” They are not content to hear the old ways declared, but their ears itch for something new and astonishing. So they heap to themselves false teachers. They want their ears continually scratched with original ideas. They abhor expository preaching, it is too serious and boring. They want to be entertained by famous names and big productions. In a word, they want their senses stimulated, rather than their hearts. The bigger the lie, the better. They have no appetite for the truth at all. They find it revolting.
Such we see happening today. The words of Jeremiah 5:30,31 are most appropriate. “A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; The prophets prophesy falsely, . . . and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?” Notice, that God states that His people love to have it so! Remember these words were spoken shortly before God sent judgment upon Judah by the hands of the Babylonians. So in our day we prophecy of the judgment God will send upon the church which loves false prophets.
Now what we must do is apply this to ourselves. We must not simply look elsewhere. What we must remember is that apostacy starts out rather innocently, almost without notice. It starts simply with the loss of the First Love, a people lose their first love. They take the truth for granted. Being careless they slip and fall on the ice of ‘indifference’, and then slide down the hill-side of ‘worldliness’, and finally plunge over the precipice of ‘apostacy’ and ‘heresy’ to their destruction. Loss of one’s First Love is no little matter. John’s words to the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:4,5 states, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee because thou hast lost thy first love. Remember from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do thy first works: or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” Notice, the loss of the First Love ends in nothing less than the removal of the candlestick, which is the preaching of God’s word. So serious is that first step of losing one’s First Love. The only remedy is heart-felt repentance.
These words especially are to be applied to us as Protestant Reformed. I fear we are losing our first love. We must take heed. We must always be governed by the spirit of repentance. Apostacy is never far from the pulpit. Neither is it from the pew. It is as close as our own hearts. Does the love of the truth there burn steadily, or does it flicker? In this connection, remember also that the pulpit is, in our age, under tremendous pressure from the pew. Do not underestimate pew pressure. Do not underestimate your influence for good or evil. The strongest willed preacher and best-intentioned minister can cave into it. Think, for instance, of Aaron, who gave Israel the golden calf because they pressured him so at the foot of Sinai. Think as well of the bold Apostle Peter who, we are told in Acts, withdrew himself from the gentile Christians because of the displeasure expressed by circumcised Christians. He buckled under their pressure, and Went against his own better judgment. Paul had to rebuke him.
I say again, do not underestimate pew pressure nor your influence. It can affect the preaching for good or evil. You have clout. Why do you think that when I made this speech I was so conscious of the clock? Because in 50 minutes you can become restless, turn me off, and make me feel very uncomfortable. That happens in church too. People give you 45-50 minutes to say what you have to say, and then the Spirit had better stop inspiring. Their patience runs out. Now that is pew pressure in a minor way. But the point is, it is always there, and ministers are conscious of it.
It takes a tremendous amount of grace for preachers for the sake of principle to resist the pressure of the pew. Not guts mind you, but it takes grace and conviction. You do not always find that conviction in preachers. May God grant that it may continue to be found in our ministers. And may you as pew encourage them, not by a slap on the back, but by taking heed to the word preached. That is the greatest encouragement.
In conclusion, I want to deal with the sign of ‘betrayal’ as this is mentioned by Christ in Matthew 24:7,10. Verse 10 reads, “And then shall many be offended and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another,” Christ is speaking here of the Great Tribulation as that was to be foreshadowed by the persecution that would break out upon the Jews and the Christians in the days of the Caesars. Betrayal is pan of persecution.
What is striking is that Christ dos not warn of persecution at the hands of the world, but he warns us that it will come from an unexpected direction, from within the church itself. Those whom you consider to be brothers and sisters in the Lord will betray you. Those whom the truth offends will turn against the faithful. Christian will be betrayed by Christian. There shall arise many Judas Iscariots, so cold shall the love of some be. Those whom you thought to be sheep will be wolves in whose hearts lurk the bitterest hatred.
One may ask, what sign is there of that today? We are not persecuted as yet, (though some in the world taste it already). Yet it is closer than we might tend to think, and there are more signs than we may at first imagine.
Betrayal takes its initial form in what we may call ‘peer pressure’. Young people certainly know what it means to be subjected to peer pressure. It is the pressure to conform to the dominant group, to do as everyone else is doing, in dress, in speech, in behavior. If you resist conformity, you are threatened with being excluded and scorned. You are in a word, weird.
What ought to be of special concern in this connection is that often you find peer pressure displayed in Protestant Reformed circles. Young people know of that. Some young people may fear to act modest and upright because others may sneer at them, or at least give you the cold shoulder. Because they participate in discussions, have devotions, and obey the campus rules, others say of them, “What an odd ball. Who’s going to hang around that kind of person? He or she is not our kind.” That is peer pressure, and that is betrayal by those with whom one ought to have the most in common. That is a form of the persecution of which Jesus was taking about. Let us examine ourselves and our attitudes towards our fellow Christians.
Furthermore, young people, this peer pressure does not end when one becomes an adult. If anything, it intensifies, though you may be better able to deal with it as an adult. The pressure of society upon the God-fearing Christian to conform to society’s norms is immense. What is more it is having its devastating effect. For instance, the charge is frequently leveled at the Christian church that she has been guilty of discrimination against women. As a result, the church has hastily opened her offices to women. This against the clear teaching of the scriptures. So the church surrenders to the pressure. She dances to the tune piped by the world.
All this raises the specter of betrayal. It is the power of peer pressure that causes people to dissociate themselves from those with whom they were once allied, and even to denounce them.
This, I am convinced, is one of the primary reasons why there is so much bad theology among protestant theologians in our day. Protestant theologians are in a mad rush to dissociate themselves from historical Calvinism. Their reputation in the scholarly world is at stake. They do not want to be labeled as narrow-minded Calvinists. They do not want to be put in the category of unscientific, Bible-believing primitives, nor of ‘puritan prudes’ who have a seventeenth century morality. Those are names that break their bones. Because of the bad press true Calvinism receives, many protestant theologians are in whole-sale retreat from that doctrine.
The result of this is that theologians in circles reputed to be Calvinistic are shouting at the top of their lungs, “Oh no! We do not believe in that old-fashioned Calvinism. We are too advanced. It is those people over there who still have that dangerous sixteenth and seventeenth century mentality. But we assure you that we have forsaken those positions long ago. Calvin is being re- interpreted”
Such men frantically wave the white flag of common-grace for all to see. It is the white flag of surrender. It announces that there is yet divine reason for allegiance with the world. They assure the world that they preach no form of discrimination, not even creedal. All are welcomed under their banner.
What ultimately happens is that those who have dissociated themselves from true Calvinism begin to point the finger. They say to the world, “Here we will show you who really believe what you wrongly accuse us of maintaining.” And do you know at whom the finger begins to point? At those who are labeled ‘Hyper-Calvinists’. They are those who maintain ‘double-predestination’; who speak of the jealous God who hates wickedness and judges the wicked; who refuse to join efforts to unite the world in earthly peace, but who rather speak of the antithesis; and more and more, those who deny the free offer. Do you recognize yourself? Such protestant Calvinists offend. Such other Protestants hate for giving them a bad name. Such others will gladly betray. And such will know what it is to suffer for Christ’s sake. That, Christ assures us, is to be our lot in the future.
Young people, assess yourselves; assess your love for the truth. Are you hot? cold? or just luke-warm? Know your calling. Count the cost. Keeping the word of God is going to cost you dearly, maybe your all. But what means more to you? Your name? or Christ’s name and your soul? Do not listen to the siren call of the world. Do not give space to Pontius Pilots on your pulpits. Do not act like Judas Iscariots. Be faithful Disciples.
Christ Jesus promises, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. ” (Matt. 24: 13) It will take endurance, spiritual stamina. It will take much grace. God grant you that irresistible grace. Take your stand on the truth, for indeed, the truth shall set you free. Yours is the crown of glory.