The Signs of the Times
William B. Riley, D. D.
The Home Field magazine, 1914
THE DISTINGUISHED MINISTER whose sermon we publish below, is native of Kentucky and a scholastic product of the Louisville Seminary. He is one of the strongest of the group of Southern Baptist preachers who are now in midlife. In the Middle West he has been a great power against the fatuous subtieties of the science, falsely so called, which seeks to undermine the Word of God. We asked Dr. Riley for a sermon on the 'Signs of the Times', which he might think suited to our Southern Baptist needs. He has given us a discourse suited to our needs - and everybody’s. Whether or not the reader accepts what seems to be the author’s belief on the when and how of the Millennium, he cannot but be moved by the power of his discourse and the tremendous moment of the theme he earnestly and convincingly develops. Southern Baptists everywhere will share Kentucky’s joy at having furnished so strong a preacher of the gospel and leader of men.
[W. B. Riley attended Big Bone Baptist Church, Boone County, Kentucky when he was a youth, before his family moved from the area.]
Then shall the end come – Matthew 24:14.
SERMONS on “The Signs of the Times” have had little or no fascination for me. It is difficult to get a proper perspective of the thing close at hand; and well nigh dangerous to dogmatically interpret the events of which one's life is a very part.
The difficulties of a duty, however, do not absolve one from obligation to the same; and the much teaching of the Word of God concerning "the signs of the times” and the remarkable movements of the century to which we belong, combine in calling attention to the important and tremendous subject.
It is, therefore, with the hope of both discharging the minister's duty, and of making more clear to “the body of Christ” the religions significance of current events, that I discuss this question.
Proclamation and Preparation.
OF FIRST importance is the proclamation of peace, and the preparation for war. It is now a full score of years since the first Peace Conference was called at the Hague, and the “arbitration” of international difficulties became the slogan for representatives, statesmen, philosophers, scientists and plainer folk.
Newspapers have made this slogan the big head line; magazines have multiplied articles devoted to its treatment; Kings, Emperors and Presidents have found in it a popular theme for great public addresses, and ruling political parties have woven it prominently into their platforms. If one judged only by what has been taking form in public sentiment, phrasing itself in public speech and finding place on the printed page, he would naturally conclude that the armies and navies of the world were just ready for dissolution; and that in another decade neither uniformed soldier would mark the land, nor government garbed sailor be seen at sea.
But often philosophy falls dead before the mailed fists of fact; and the fact is, that never since nations had a being has the world been so well armed for war; and while "Peace Conferences” are in session the fighting crowd, on land and sea, are alike being increased. As Dr. I. M. Haldeman says, “England, so long content to have a great navy and a small volunteer army, is now making a supreme effort to raise that army to an effective standard of 500,000 men. France is ready to respond in forty-eight hours with 500,000 soldiers, mobilized and fully equipped. Germany has under arms and ready to march at a moment's notice, 500,000 constituting the most perfect fighting machine ever put together. Spain has 100,000 veterans with the memory of Cuba in their hearts. Italy has ready nearly another half million. Austria a full half million, trained, disciplined and magnificently furnished. Russia has a million men under arms - not merely reserves - she has these besides - but a million of men in barrack and camp, ready to fight, as never before. Japan has more than half a million practically in the field, and a full million of equally disciplined reserves behind them - soldiers whose desperate bravery electrified and almost appalled the world. China is moving every
thing, that she may possess an army of 500,000 soldiers equal to the most modern demands, and, already, has an artillery among the best.
This condition is duplicated at sea; and just now the increase of its navy is the supreme purpose of almost every nation under the sun. This is exactly what Jesus taught would come to pass as the end approached. “Ye shall hear of wars, and rumors of wars. See that ye be not troubled for all these things must come to pass,” but the end is not yet, for "nations must rise against nations, and kingdoms against kingdoms.” (Matthew 24:6-7).
And in this the Son of God was only saying to his auditors what God’s true prophets had proclaimed as the "sign of the end.” It is an ever-increasing marvel to the student of the Scripture to see how perfectly Daniel foresaw events, and over what a long period of time his clear vision swept; and Daniel, speaking of the nations that should succeed the breaking up of the Roman empire, said, "In the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up. And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper and work; and shall destroy mighty ones and the holy people. And through his ability he shall magnify himself in his heart, and prosper in his hand, and by peace shall destroy many; he shall also stand up against the Prince of Princes; but he shall be broken without hand." (Daniel 8:23-25). What a wonderful interweaving of the proclamation of "peace" and the execution of "war" in the Seer’s words. It is another instance of the Jeremiahad, "Peace! Peace! when there is no peace." (Jeremiah 6:14).
The very conditions that now exist are as strange as the world has ever known; and while the orators of the earth are giving the people promise of a cessation from all war, even the Christian nations of Europe are, as Campbell Morgan remarks, "Watching each other with a suspicion that is devilish and horrible.”
Seeking Truth but Accepting Lies
A SECOND sign is the search for truth and the acceptance of lies. Paul, speaking of "the latter time" and “the revelation of that wicked one, whom the Lord shall consume with the breath of his mouth and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming” prophesies not only a large following for this "man to come,” but, concerning his disciples, declares, "God shall send them a strange delusion, to believe a lie, that they shall be judged who believe not the truth.” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).
"Strange delusion” is the adequate phrase! There never was a time when so many men were giving themselves to "scientific investigation”; and when so many things were exploited as "scientific" certainties. Indeed, we are told that it is the "Age of Science" and the men who employ the phrase mean by it that it is not the age of Biblical or other religious authority. The result of this philosophy, in the lives of men, is as strange as Scriptural, namely those who have set themselves to know the whole truth, have in their very search accepted "strange delusions"; and in their rejection of all sacred authority, have fallen into the most egregious scientific errors, thus becoming teachers of thoughts and systems that are irrational to the point of folly,
it[if] not of insanity.
[Ernst] Haeckel, one of the most noted among them, in his "Riddles of the Universe" rules God out of it; and so becomes an advocate of the insane philosophy that power does not involve personality, wisdom does not involve thoughtfulness, design does not involve a designer! In other words, the heavens do not "declare the glory of God," nor doth "the firmament show his handiwork.” This justifies the language of the Psalmist, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”
The conclusion of their reasoning is no more false than the process of the same. Take, for instance, the theory of evolution, now widely declared in scientific circles as the basis of all scientific investigation, - a base in a hypothesis which has never had any existence other than the vaporings of a man who made his reputation in science as Robt. G. Ingersoll made his in religion, by
departing so far from the truth as to call universal attention to himself.
And yet men by the tens of thousands in the Old World and in the New, are holding to this theory, and preaching it as a “scientific certainty,” when there has never been found on land or sea a scintilla of scientific evidence In favor of the same.
These same scientists have also denied the supernatural simply because the scalpel will not uncover and explain the same, and rejected it with bitterness on account of its having eluded their analysis. By the same process of reasoning they would be compelled to ally themselves with Mary Baker Eddy and deny the reality of human existence. "A scholarly physician who sent to Dr. P. H. Mell, that notable Southerner, and said, "Doctor, I would believe in Christianity if I could explain the supernatural generation of Christ," was sufficiently answered by Dr. Mell, who replied, “Can your [you] explain natural generation in any case?" The physician hesitated and then admitted, "I cannot."
One could push this inquiry into a multitude of additional fields, and when he had finished, he would find the notable scientists of the world standing forth with such folly in their lips as President Eliot expressed when he said, "The religion of the future will be bound by neither dogma nor creed", as if a creedless conception could ever command attention or adoption from men; such folly as Dr. J. Woodland, of the University of Rochester, expressed when he said, “The myths and fables of the Bible will be laid aside, and the church will be founded on truth,” as if “Truth” had an existence independent of the faithful record of human experience.
To reach the acme of folly, let the much-advertised Prof. Foster of the Chicago University, voice himself: "Man cannot live without science! Gone are the old ideas of religion; gone is the old notion of the divinity of the sacrament, of the efficacy of prayer, of the authority of the Scriptures, of the divinity of Christ; gone even is the former view of the immortality of the soul. And there is in its place only the modern idea of efficiency, which emphasizes temporary success and does not answer the question of the rest of the spiritual. Caught up in the world agony, the poor soul must find rest and refuge in the very bosom of reality.”
All of this is again in fulfillment of the Scriptures, concerning those who “become vain in their own reasoning, and have their senseless hearts darkened; professing themselves to be wise, they become fools, exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship the creature more than the Creator.”
Professing Godliness They Practice Godlessness.
THE PROFESSION of godliness and the practice of godlessness is a third sign. Paul wrote to his junior, Timothy, saying: “Know this, that in the last days perilous times shall come, when men shall be self-lovers, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy without natural affection, unforgiving, false accusers, incontinent, savage, haters of good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God: having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof”. (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
Have you ever noticed that in the seven epistles to the seven churches (the great periods of church history are plainly marked) John, coming to the Laodicean period - the last of the seven - consequently the approaching “end of the age,” finds the church lukewarm, boasting itself, however, as “rich and increased with goods, and in need of nothing.”
The most of us remember D. Astley Cooper’s famous painting, “The Pursuit of Pleasure”, and intelligent people perfectly understand that many of the members of the modern church neither find it in their heart to condemn that young Roman’s pursuit, nor to refrain from scenes and occasions as inimical to the cause of Christ. The simple truth is that many modern churches are now planning in their new structures smoking rooms, dance halls and an up-to-date stage, in the midst of which setting stands the cross of Christ, involving an inharmony which would be unthinkable to our puritan ancestors, but which is a fulfillment of prophecy, presenting the “abomination of desolation” spoken by Daniel the prophet, “standing in the holy place”. (Matthew 24:14). "Then shall the end come!”
[From Victor I. Masters, editor, The Home Field magazine, March, 1914; via Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives digital documents. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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