Understanding the times

 “… the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do…”  (1 Chronicles 12:32, NKJV)

  • 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 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.
The times require of us a bold and unflinching maintenance of the entire truth of Christianity, and the Divine authority of the Bible.
  • No educated person, we are constantly told nowadays, can really believe supernatural religion, or the plenary inspiration of the Bible, or the possibility of miracles.
  • It is only an old enemy in a new dress, an old disease in a new form. Since the day when Adam and Eve fell, the devil has never ceased to tempt men not to believe God, and has said, directly or indirectly, “You shall not die even if you do not believe.” “But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:13, NKJV).  “…scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts…” (2 Peter 3:3, NKJV)
  • Christianity has survived the attacks of Hume and Hobbes and Tindal – of Collins and Woolston and Bolingbroke and Chubb – of Voltaire and Payne and Holyoak. These men made a great noise in their day, and frightened weak people; but they produced no more effect than idle travellers produce by scratching their names on the great pyramid of Egypt.
  • When you cannot answer a sceptic, be content to wait for more light; but never forsake a great principle. In religion [faith], as in many scientific questions, said Faraday, “the highest philosophy is often a judicious suspense of judgment.” He  who believes shall not make haste: he can afford to wait.
  • When sceptics and unbelievers have said all they can, we must not forget that there are three great broad facts which they have never explained away:
    • Jesus Christ Himself.  Who was He? What was He? Where did He come from? How is it that there never has been one like Him, neither before nor after, since the beginning of historical times?
    • The Bible itself. If Christianity is a mere invention of man, and the Bible is of no more authority than any other uninspired volume, how is it that the Book is what it is? How is it that a Book written by a few Jews in a remote corner of the earth, written at distant periods without help or collaboration among the writers, written by members of a nation which, compared to Greeks and Romans, did nothing for literature:  how is it that this Book stands entirely alone, and there is nothing that even come near to it, for high views of God, for true views of man, for solemnity of thought, for grandeur of doctrine, and for purity of morality?
    • The effect which Christianity has produced on the world. If Christianity is a mere invention of man, and not a supernatural, Divine revelation, how is it that it has wrought such a complete alteration in the state of mankind?
  • They may often ask you a hundred questions you cannot answer, and start ingenious problems about various readings, or inspiration, or geology, or the origin of man, or the age of the world, which you cannot solve. They may vex and irritate you with wild speculations and theories, of which at the time you cannot prove the fallacy, though you feel it. But be calm and fear not. Remember the three great facts I have named, and boldly challenge sceptics to explain them away.
  • The difficulties of Christianity no doubt are great; but, depend on it, they are nothing compared to the difficulties of unbelief.
The times require at our hands distinct and decided views of Christian doctrine.
  • Myriads of professing Christians nowadays seem utterly unable to distinguish things that differ.
  • Like people afflicted with colour-blindness, they are incapable of discerning what is true and what is false, what is sound and what is unsound.
  • If a preacher is only clever and eloquent and earnest, they appear to think he is all right, however strange and heterogeneous his sermons may be.
  • They are destitute of spiritual sense, apparently, and cannot detect error.
  • Carried away by a fancied liberality and charity, they seem to think everybody is right and nobody is wrong, every clergyman is sound and none is unsound, everybody is going to be saved and nobody going to be lost.
  • Their faith is made up of negatives; and the only positive thing about them is that they dislike distinctness and think all extreme and decided and positive views are very wayward and very wrong!
  • They have not made up their minds about any great point in the Gospel, and seem content to be honorary members of all schools of thought.
  • They are eaten up with a morbid dread of controversy and an ignorant dislike of party spirit; and yet they really cannot define what they mean by these phrases.
  • They admire earnestness and intelligence and love, and cannot believe that any clever, earnest, charitable man can ever be in the wrong!
  • The natural heart in most men hates exercise in faith, and cordially dislikes patient, painstaking inquiry. Above all, the natural heart generally likes the praise of others, shrinks from collision, and loves to be thought loving and tolerant.
  • It is a lazy, idle frame of soul which, doubtless, saves men the trouble of thought and investigation.
  • Never, never be afraid to hold decided doctrinal opinions; and let no fear of man and no morbid dread of being thought party-spirited, narrow, or controversial, make you rest contented with a bloodless, boneless, tasteless, colourless, lukewarm, undogmatic Christianity.
  • If you believe little, those to whom you try to do good will believe nothing.
  • The victories of Christianity, wherever they have been won, have been won by distinct doctrinal theology
    • by telling men roundly of Christ’s vicarious death and sacrifice
    • by showing them Christ’s substitution on the cross, and His precious blood
    • by teaching them justification by faith, and bidding them believe on a crucified Saviour
    • by preaching ruin by sin, redemption by Christ, regeneration by the Spirit
    • by lifting up the brazen serpent – by telling men to look and live – to believe, repent, and be converted.
  • Christianity without distinct doctrine is a powerless thing.
  • If we want to “do good” and shake the world, we must fight with the old apostolic weapons, and stick to “dogma.” No dogma, no fruits! No positive Evangelical doctrine, no evangelisation! It was “dogma” in the apostolic ages which emptied the heathen temples and shook Greece and Rome.
  • It was “dogma” which awoke Christendom from its slumbers at the time of the Reformation and spoiled the Pope of one third of his subjects. It was “dogma” which 100 years ago revived the Church of England in the days of Whitfield, Wesley, Venn, and Romaine, and blew up our dying Christianity into a burning flame.
The times require of us an awakened and livelier sense of the unscriptural and soul- ruining character of Romanism.
  • Some profess to be tired of all religious controversy, and are ready to sacrifice God’s truth for the sake of peace.
  • Some look on Romanism as simply one among many English forms of religion, and neither worse nor better than others.
  • Some try to persuade us that Romanism is changed, and not nearly so bad as it used to be.
  • Some boldly point to the faults of Protestants, and loudly cry that Romanists are quite as good as ourselves.
  • Some think it fine and liberal (progressive?) to maintain that we have no right to think anyone wrong who is in earnest about his creed.
  • The causes of this sad change are not hard to discover:
    • It arises partly from the untiring zeal of the Romish Church herself.
    • It is aided by  poor understanding of the Scriptures (dogma) in Protestant churches.
    • It is fashionable now to say that all religions should be equal, and that there is a substratum of common truth at the bottom of all kinds of religion, whether Buddhism, Islam, or Christianity!
  • The consequences of this changed tone will be most disastrous and troublesome, unless it can be checked.
  • Beware of Romanism and beware of any religious teaching which, wittingly or unwittingly, paves the way to it.
  • Read your Bibles and store your minds with Scriptural arguments. A Bible-reading laity is a nation’s surest defence against error.
  • Do not forget that Rome never changes. It is her boast and glory that she is infallible, and always the same.
  • Surely I have a right to say that the times require of us a renewed sense of the evils of Romanism, and of the enormous value of the Protestant Reformation!
The times require of us a higher standard of personal holiness, and an increased attention to practical religion in daily life.
  • We need more men and women who walk with God and before God, like Enoch and Abraham.
  • Where is the self-denial, the redemption of time, the absence of luxury and self-indulgence, the unmistakable separation from earthly things, the manifest air of being always about our Master’s business, the singleness of eye, the simplicity of home life, the high tone of conversation in society, the patience, the humility, the universal courtesy which marked so many of our forerunners seventy or eighty years ago?
  • We have inherited their principles and we wear their armour, but I fear we have not inherited their practice.
    • The Holy Ghost sees it, and is grieved;
    • The world sees it, and despises us.
    • The world sees it, and cares little for our testimony.
  • It is life, life – a heavenly, godly, Christ-like life – depend on it, which influences the world.
The times require of us more regular and steady perseverance in the old ways of getting good for our souls.
  • Public worship must always be accompanied by private worship.
  • Incessant running after sensational preachers, incessant attendance at hot, crowded meetings, protracted to late hours, incessant craving after fresh excitement and highly-spiced pulpit novelties – all this kind of thing is calculated to produce a very unhealthy style of Christianity.  By and by, as with opium-eaters and dram-drinkers, there comes a time when their dose loses its power, and a feeling of exhaustion and discontent begins to creep over their minds. Oh, that people would remember that it was not the wind, or the fire, or the earthquake, which showed Elijah the presence of God, but “the still, small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12.)
  • The root of a plant or tree makes no show above ground. If you dig down to it and examine it, it is a poor, dirty, coarse-looking thing, and not nearly so beautiful to the eye as the fruit, or leaf, or flower. But that despised root, nevertheless, is the true source of all the life, health, vigour and fertility which your eyes see, and without it the plant or tree would soon die. Now private religion is the root of all vital Christianity.
    • Let us pray more heartily in private, and throw our whole souls more into our prayers.
    • Let us read our Bibles in private more, and with more pains and diligence. Ignorance of Scripture is the root of all error and makes a man helpless in the hand of the devil.
    • Let us cultivate the habit of keeping up more private meditation and communion with Christ. Spiritual prosperity depends immensely on our private worship, and private worship cannot nourish unless we determine that by God’s help we will make time, whatever trouble it may cost us, for thought, for prayer, for the Bible, and for private communion with Christ. “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:6, NKJV)


  • Would you understand what the times require of you in reference to your own soul? Beware of a helpless state of indecision about doctrinal truth under the plausible idea of not being party spirited, and under the baneful influence of so-called liberality and charity. Beware of frittering away life in wishing, and meaning, and hoping for the day of decision, until the door is shut and you are given over to a dead conscience and die without hope.
  • Would you understand what the times require of all Christians in reference to the souls of others?   Remember the souls of relatives, friends and companions; remember that God often works by weak instruments, and try with holy ingenuity to lead them to Christ. The time is short: the sand is running out of the glass of this old world; then redeem the time, and endeavour not to go to heaven alone.
  • Would you understand what the times require of you in reference to the Church of Christ?  Her life-blood is drained away by the behaviour of traitors, false friends, and timid officers within. Nevertheless, so long as the Church of Christ (Ryle here actually referred to the Church of England)  sticks firmly to the Bible, the Confessions, and the principles of the Protestant Reformation, so long I advise you strongly to stick to the Church. If the really loyal members of the Church (of England) will only stand by her boldly, and not look coolly at one another, and refuse to work the same fire-engine, or man the same lifeboat – if they will not squabble and quarrel and “fall out by the way,” the Church of Christ will live and not die, and be a blessing to our children’s children. (Members and clergy of the Church of England, now more than ever,  should take heed of Ryle’s word!)

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