The Problem of the Times, and How to Meet It,the theme being based upon Paul’s words to Timothy, II Epistle, chapters three and four.
The problem is stated in the opening words of the third chapter, and reads: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.”
When Paul speaks of the last days I do not understand him to mean the last days of the world, for I think the end of the world is a great way off. As I understand the Scriptures, a thousand years of peace and righteousness are yet to be seen upon this earth before the end of the world comes. I think he means the last days of this age or dispensation in which we live.
An age or dispensation means a period of time in which God is dealing with His human creatures in a different way, or on a different principle from that in which He is dealing with them at another period of time, that is, with reference to the great plan of human redemption.
There have been many ages in this sense in the history of the race, each ending in a catastrophe, and I believe the age in which we live, the Christian age, will end in a catastrophe as well. No catastrophe, so far as the Church is concerned, for the Church, which is Christ’s body, shall be caught up to meet Him when He comes into the air, but a catastrophe so far as the ungodly nations are concerned.
It is after the Church is caught up that Christ is revealed with His mighty angels taking vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, when Paul says that “in the last days perilous or grievous times shall come,” he means the last days which shall synchronize with those two events.
He not only says that grievous times shall come, but he goes on to definitely describe those times.
As I read his description, you can determine for yourself whether there is anything in the days in which we live that meets it in any degree.
“Men shall be lovers of self,” he says, “lovers of money, boastful, haughty, railers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, slanderers, without self-control, fierce.”
Despisers of good, traitors, headstrong; lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; from such turn aside.
I say it is for us to determine whether there is anything in this description that fits the time in which we live, whether the problem set before Timothy may be the problem that is set before us, and whether the words addressed to him were meant to have any application to us.
How Shall the Problem Be Met?
In view of the problem, how is it to be met? I mean, how is it to be met, not by men and women of the world, but the men and women of God.
How shall we meet it who have come to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, who are regenerated by His Spirit, and are looking for His coming?
In the subsequent verses of the chapter we have the answer to this question, which tells us, first, that we have a position to maintain; secondly, a service to perform, and, thirdly, a hope to cherish.
First, we have a position to maintain, for he goes on to say, “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived, but continue thou in the things which thou has learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou has known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
In other words, that which Timothy was to do and which you and I are to do is to stay right where we are in the things which we have learned and have been assured of in the Holy Scriptures of God. To make our home in these things, as Bishop Moule expresses it, and to be always at home.
It is interesting to note that Paul calls Timothy’s attention to the source from which he had learned those things.
In the first epistle to Timothy, we are told that he had learned these things from his mother and his grandmother, and better teachers than these no man ever had, when their feet are found in the way of righteousness.
The Sunday School of these days is a great blessing, but I pity the boys and girls who have to be sent to Sunday School to learn the Holy Scriptures, because their parents are unable or unwilling to teach them.
The reason Timothy is urged to continue in these things is because, as Paul adds, “They are able to make thee wise unto salvation.”
He does not say that the Scriptures can save a soul, for they cannot. He is careful to say we are saved only through faith in Jesus Christ, but the Scriptures convince us of our need of that salvation. They show us how to obtain that salvation, and also how to use that salvation after we have obtained it, and it is with reference to the last that he is using the phrase here.
Salvation Every Day
Timothy was a saved man. He had come to believe on and confess Jesus Christ. He had been found faithful and was called into the ministry of Christ.
But salvation is not only a thing of the past in this sense but it is something which is still going on. Every one of us who has been saved by faith in Jesus Christ is now in the process of being saved. In other words, there is such a thing as growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and it is for this that we need to continue in the things that we have learned.
We need to continue in order to be saved from these things which make the perilous times in which we live; this love of self and love of money; this worldly pride; this unnatural affection; this high-mindedness; this love of pleasure which is more than the love of God, and this form of godliness without its power.
That such is the salvation Paul has in mind is still more evident from that which follows, for in the next verse he declares “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, or teaching; for reproof, that is conviction of sin; for correction when our feet are being led in the way of error; for instruction or building us up in the way of righteousness, that the man of God may be completely furnishing unto all good work.”
The man of God, you observe. He is not talking about the man of the world. The natural man receiveth not the things of God, neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned, but the man of God can know them, and he is urged to continue in the Holy Scriptures that as a man of God he may be perfect; may have a well-balanced Christian life; complete in the sense that he is completely furnished unto all good works.
The visible church talks a good deal about good works, but we do not know what good works are as God regards them, except as we come to His word to find out.
You recall how it is written in another place:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.
“Not of works, lest any man should boast.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
We are not saved by works, but by faith in Jesus Christ, and yet when we are saved we discover that God has created us in Christ Jesus unto certain good works which He hath before prepared for us to walk in.
How vital it is, therefore, that we shall come to the word of God to find out what those good works are, for there is a day coming when we shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ as His disciples, His servants, to receive the things done in the body, whether they be good or bad. In that day, we may find that instead of having a super-structure of gold and silver and precious stones, we shall have only one of wood and hay and stubble to be burned up.
Giving God a Chance to Be Heard
Secondly. In view of the perilous times, we not only have a position to maintain, but we have a service to perform.
Paul adds in the next verses, “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing, and His kingdom.
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.”
When he lays this obligation upon us to preach the Word, he is not talking merely to ordained ministers. He is not talking about what the theological seminaries call the science of homiletics, about sermonizing. He is talking about that which every Christian man and woman is able to do and ought to do. He is talking about the proclamation of the good news concerning Jesus Christ and His finished work for sinners.
As an illustration, go with me to the story in the eighth of Acts.
After the martyrdom of Stephen there was a great persecution against the Church which was at Jerusalem, and all the disciples were driven out except the apostles, the only “ordained” men in the Christian church at that time. But they who were persecuted and driven out “went everywhere preaching the Word.” Men and women were doing it, and I suppose the boys and girls were doing it—telling the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
In other words, this is not merely the task of the preacher that Paul is talking about, but the task of the fireside; the business office; the factory and the shop; the task of the man on the street; the task of the traveler on the train. It is the giving of an opportunity for God’s voice to be heard amidst the din and confusion of this wicked world.
How shall God have an opportunity to be heard, except as His people shall open their lips in season and out of season to preach His blessed word? And the reason for it is given in the next verse: “For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.”
Heaps of Teachers
When he says “they will not endure the sound doctrine,” he is not referring to the people of the world but to some within the visible Church. They have “itching ears” like the men of Athens of whom we read in the Acts, who “spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or hear some new thing.”
They will not listen to the teachers whom God sends and anoints and who speak His Word, but will be “heaping to themselves teachers” of another doctrine, a doctrine such as their own lusts, their own unregenerate hearts desire to hear.
Isn’t that a marked feature of the period in which we live? Were there ever so many religious teachers as today? Heaps of them, as Paul says.
Teachers of Bahaism, New Thought, Theosophy, Spiritualism, Christian Science, Rationalism, and about everything else. Men do not care if it is only something different from the Bible, which condemns sin and proclaims salvation only through the cross of Christ.
What is the result? They are turning away their ears from the truth, and being turned unto fables.
This then is the service we have to perform. See that you do it. What opportunities you women have in the social circle! How often do you seek opportunity, or make it, to bear your testimony for Christ for a poor lost world’s sake?
Paul is Thinking of Reward
Thank God, there is not only a position to be maintained, and a service to be performed, but there is a hope to cherish!
He knows the human heart because He made it, and hence He knows what we desire and yearn for, and in His grace He meets it.
The apostle, in concluding this part of his letter, says: “Watch thou in all things, endure afflictions; make full proof of thy ministry.
“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
“I have fought the good fight.” Not a good fight, as the King James version expresses it, but the good fight, for there is only one.
“I have finished the course.” Not my course, and the King James version reads, but the course, for there is only one. “I have kept the faith.
“Henceforth, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.”
In other words, my dear brethren, SALVATION is one thing, but reward is a different thing. Every man is saved when he receives the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour and confesses Him as his Lord. Saved in that there is therefore now no condemnation for him because he is in Christ Jesus.
But the same God, who in Isaiah says “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth,” says also by the apostle John, “Look to yourselves that you receive a full reward.”
Salvation is of grace, and yet after we are saved God still in grace promises to reward us in the future in the measure in which we have remained faithful in the service of His Son.
That day is coming, we know not when, but when it comes, He, “Whose we are and Whom we serve,” will bring His reward with Him.
The reward of which Paul speaks will be given Him by the Righteous Judge, who only is able to judge righteously because He, Himself, is righteous and the one in whose eyes all things are open and naked that we do.
The Righteous Judge will give this reward to him “in that day,” the day of His glorious reappearing, when “we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.”
But it is a reward not only for Himself but for all, who like Him, love His appearing.
My brother, can you say that is true of you? There are some who do not love His appearing because they are afraid, but they who know and are trusting Him are without fear in the contemplation of His coming, because it means the consummation of their salvation wrought out for them upon the cross.
Just what the nature of the crown of righteousness may be we do not know, but Paul probably had in mind the Olympic games, whose winner was always crowned. His crown was of perishable leaves, but that was not all it meant to him. It was indeed the smallest part of it. That which was held before his eyes was the day when he would return home to his native town and receive the plaudits of his friends and neighbors. Often they would remove stones out of the white wall of the town to give the winner a way of ingress that no man’s feet had ever trod before, so highly did they desire to honor him.
In like manner a day is coming when we shall find it to have been worthwhile to have been a Christian, especially a faithful Christian, and to have fought the good fight and finished the course. “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.”
Believe it! Brethren. The things that I am talking about today are the things that are real and tangible, substantial and enduring.
I speak to the young men and young women who are hesitating about confessing Christ, and to those who are being tempted since they have confessed His name, to walk in the way of the world instead of the way of God.
By the power of God I would hold you loyal to Him and to continue in His Word which is able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.