January 20: Understanding the Times

Rising out of a Sunday School class here in St. Louis, with reflection upon the life and ministry of Francis A. Schaeffer, our post today departs from our normally calendar-tied postings. Schaeffer was clearly a man who understood the times, and that recognition easily paired up with some recent reading in J.C. Ryle’s book, HOLINESS. 

I pray you will find this profitable in a day when the Church is often sorely tried and test.

Executive Summary — Chapter 19

[excerpted from Holiness, by J.C. Ryle. Banner of Truth, reprinted 2016, pp. 391-413.

Men that had understanding of the times. — I Chron. 12:32.

“These words were written about the tribe of Issachar, in the days when David first began to reign over Israel. It seems that after Saul’s unhappy death, some of the tribes of Israel were undecided what to do. ‘Under which king?’ was the question of the day in Palestine. Men doubted whether they should cling to the family of Saul, or accept David as their king. Some hung back, and would not commit themselves; others came forward boldly, and declared for David. Among these last were many of the children of Issachar; and the Holy Ghost gives them a special word of praise. He says, ‘They were men that had understanding of the times.’

I cannot doubt that this sentence, like every sentence in Scripture, was written for our learning. These men of Issachar are set before us as a pattern to be imitated and an example to be followed: for it is a most important thing to understand the times in which we live, and to know what those times require. The wise men in the court of Ahasuerus ‘knew the times’ (Esther 1:13). Our Lord Jesus Christ blames the Jews because they ‘knew not the time of their visitation’, and did not ‘discern the signs of the times’ (Matt. 16:3; Luke 19:44). Let us take heed lest we fall into the same sin. The man who is content to sit ignorantly by his own fireside, wrapped up in his own private affairs, and has no public eye for what is going on in the Church and the world, is a miserable patriot, and a poor style of Christian. Next to our Bibles and our own hearts, our Lord would have us study our own times.

Consider what our own times require at our hands:

I. First, and foremost, the times require of us a bold and unflinching maintenance of the entire truth of Christianity, and the Divine authority of the Bible.

II. In the second place, the times require at our hands distinct and decided views of Christian doctrine.

III. In the third place, the times require of us an awakened and livlier sense of the unscriptural and soul-ruining character of Romanism.

Here Ryle can easily be seen speaking to a major concern of his day, and for this third point we might easily reduce his point to the soul-ruining character of unbelief in all its many forms.

IV. In the fourth place, the times require of us a higher standard of personal holiness, and an increased attention to practical religion in daily life.

V. In the fifth and last place, the times require of us more regular and steady perseverance in the old ways of getting good for our souls.

a. Let us pray more heartily in private.

b. Let us read our Bibles in private more.

c. Let us cultivate the habit of keeping up more private meditation and communion with Christ.

Practical application:

(1) Would you understand what the times require of you in reference to your own soul?

(2) Would you understand what the times require of all Christians in reference to the souls of others?

(3) Would you understand what the times require of you in reference to the Church?

No doubt you live in days when our time-honored Church is in a very perilous, distressing, and critical position. Her rowers have brought her into troubled waters. Her very existence is endangered without by all manner of unbelief. Her life-blood is drained away by the behavior of traitors, false friends, and timid officers within.. Nevertheless, so long as the Church sticks firmly to the Bible, the Standards, and the principles of the Protestant Reformation, so long I advise you strongly to stick to the Church. When the Standards are thrown overboard and the old flag is hauled down, then, and not till then, it will be time for you and me to launch the boats and quit the wreck. At present, let us stick to the old ship.

Why should we leave her now, like cowards, because she is in difficulties and the truth cannot be maintained within her pale without trouble? How can we better ourselves? To whom can we go? Where shall we find better prayers? In what communion shall we find so much good being done, in spite of the existence of much evil? No doubt there is much to sadden us; but there is not a single visible Church on earth at this day doing better. There is not a single communion where there are no clouds, and all is serene. ‘The evils everywhere are mingled with the good’; the wheat never grows without tares. But for all that, there is much to gladden us, more Evangelical preaching than there ever was before in the land, more work done both at home and abroad.

If old William Romaine, of St. Anne’s, Blackfriars, who stood alone with some half-a-dozen others in London last century, had lived to see what our eyes see, he would have sharply rebuked our faintheartedness and unthankfulness. No! the battle of the Reformed Church is not yet lost, in spite of unbelief, semi-idolatry and scepticism, whatever jealous onlookers without and melancholy grumblers within may please to say. As Napoleon said at four o’clock on the battlefield of Marengo, ‘There is yet time to win a victory.’ If the really loyal members of the Church will only stand by her boldly, and not look coolly at one another, and refuse to work kthe same fire-engine, or man the same lifeboat–if they will not squabble and quarrel and ‘fall out by the way,’ the Church will live and not die, and be a blessing to our children’s children.

Then let us set our feet down firmly and stand fast in our position. Let us not be in a hurry to quit the ship because of a few leaks; let us rather man the pumps, and try to keep the good ship afloat. Let us work on, and fight on, and pray on, and stick to the Church. The Churchman who walks in these lines, I believe, is the Churchman who ‘understands the times.’


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