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Faithful in Our Time

In our reading group on J. C. Ryle’s book Holiness, we recently read a chapter titled “Wants of the Times.” By that title, Bishop Ryle meant to focus on what was needed in the church in his day. He said, “the times require of us bold and unflinching maintenance of the entire truth of Christianity, and the divine authority of the Bible.”

Describing his own day, Bishop Ryle wrote:

“Our lot is cast in an age of abounding unbelief, skepticism, and I fear I must add, infidelity…. In reviews, magazines, newspapers, lectures, essays, and sometimes even in sermons, scores of clever writers are incessantly waging war against the very foundations of Christianity. Reason, science, geology, anthropology, modern discoveries, free thought, are all boldly asserted to be on their side. No educated person, we are constantly told now-a-days, can really believe supernatural religion, or the plenary inspiration of the Bible, or the possibility of miracles."

 

Bishop Ryle wrote that in 1877 in England. Not much has changed, has it? We see the same things all around us 140 years later. Lately the news is full of the decline of religion in America, and the rise of the “Nones” among millennials. The “Nones” are those who answer “none” when asked about their religious affiliation. The reasons they give for being “Nones” are little different from the things Ryle describes. It is worth noting that Ryle specifically mentioned the “youth” as heading down this path of unbelief. Here we are generations later worried about our youth becoming irreligious.

Interestingly, Ryle said he was not surprised, because the same things were happening long before his day, and he quotes what Bishop Butler wrote in 1736 to prove his point. Butler had the same concerns. Again, almost exactly 140 years before Ryle’s day! Ryle’s conclusion? “There is no real cause for alarm.” He’s right, of course. No cause for alarm. There is cause for prayer and determined service to Christ. England did eventually become a secular country. We are certainly headed down that path. Why is there not cause for alarm? Because God is on the throne! God’s power is not one bit diminished from 140 years ago, or 280 years ago, or 2,000 years ago. Bishop Butler could not have known of Bishop Ryle’s great influence 140 years after his time, or Ryle’s contemporary the mighty Spurgeon. Ryle could not have known of the great English preachers of the 20th century, such as D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, or thinkers like C. S. Lewis, or poets like T.S. Eliot.

We don’t know God’s plan, but He does. We think if this generation is lost God cannot raise up other great men and women in another generation, and the Spirit cannot blow afresh (John 3:8). But He can. He is certainly doing this in other parts of the world, where there are people equally precious in His eyes. He may do it again here. He may not. That really isn’t our concern. It should not be a cause of anxiety or fear. What is our concern? Exactly the same as it was 140 years ago—a “bold and unflinching maintenance of the entire truth of Christianity, and the divine authority of the Bible.” The contemporary church is not very bold and routinely flinches when it comes to the entire truth of Christianity. The divine authority of the Bible is attacked constantly from within Evangelicalism. A few of the big debates currently are about normalizing homosexual acts among Christians and even the reality of a historical Adam and Eve. Even many churches that claim to believe the whole Bible don’t bother teaching it, or the fullness of Christian doctrine. We must cling to the Scripture and the great doctrines of the faith.

Our part is to be faithful in the time in which we live. There are times of great blessing and revival, and times when waves of unbelief sweep the land. There are remarkable outpourings of saving grace, and there are times the Lord leaves men to their own devices. “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Rom 9:18). Our situation, our very existence, is set in the time of His choosing. Why be fearful? What can be more comforting than knowing that whatever we face, our faithfulness is just what is needed for every moment!

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Wayne Wilson

Originally printed in The AFBC Pony Express. Vol. IX, No. 5, May 2016.

 

“Give ear and come to me, hear me, that your soul may live.”

– Isaiah 55:3