It is Time
Author of ” Rest a While,” ” Consider Him,” Road to Revival,” ”The Secret of Christian Joy,” ”By the Still Waters”
IN these sermons on the times, the reader will discover that I am not entering into the intricacies of interpreting prophecy. Rather, these awful days through which we are passing are viewed in the light of those Scriptures which reveal the broad, general trend of God’s purposes as revealed in His Word. The main burden of the book is God’s call to revival among His people.
Acknowledgment is made to Revelation Magazine of Philadelphia for permission to reprint “It Is Time” and “Later Than You Think to the Moody Monthly of Chicago for the use of “Watchman, What of the Night?” and “Time to Wake Up”; to King’s Business of Los Angeles for “Time to Be Sober and to Our Hope of New York for “Time for Judgment.” There has been, however, considerable revision of these articles, made necessary by the subject matter.
In this tragic day, when many magicians and soothsayers are trying to read the handwriting on the wall, it is hoped that these messages may incline some to listen to the Daniel of God’s Word and to act accordingly.
Greensboro, N. C.
“Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come.”—Isaiah 21: 11, 12.
I AM aware of the fact that this text has come in for plenty of use and misuse in these troublous times. It has been made a convenient subject for wild and weird prophets who know more about the future than the Bible has ever revealed. It has been a favorite headline for sensational scribblers who take advantage of these terrible days to peddle crackpot theories never heard before on land or sea. Even some politicians have borrowed the verse from a Bible they never read to give a religious color to an otherwise ungodly speech.
But no matter how well-worn my text may be, it never was more timely. We certainly are in the middle of a pitch- black moral and spiritual night. We need a watchman. And we need to know what of the night.
The text suggests a watchman. God’s prophets are His watchmen. He told Ezekiel: “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel” (3: 17). From Enoch to John on Patmos He appointed men to foretell and forthtell His purpose through the ages. He has never abolished the work of the prophet-watchman, for “God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets” (1 Cor. 12: 28). They are His watchdogs, for He calls false watchmen “dumb dogs that cannot bark” (Isa. 56: 10-12). A watchdog that will not bark is not worth having, and a preacher who will not warn men of sin is a traitor within the camp. “He that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep” (John 10:12,13).
Every pastor is God’s watchman, for he watches for men’s souls as they that must give account (Heb. 13: 17). And if a man claims to be a watchman, it is expected of him that he should know something about the night: how we got into it, where we are, and where we go from here. There are too many Hananiahs who make the people to believe a lie and not enough Micaiahs who say: “What the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak.” When God has told us the meaning of our times, then to stand with an open Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other and not know the time of day is criminal. Too many prophets are not up on the watchtower; they are down in the basement exactly like the false watchmen Isaiah described: “Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and tomorrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant” (Isa. 56: 12). “Nothing to be excited about. Everything will come out all right. All this talk about the Lord’s return is just a nervous reaction from these tense times.” Our Lord described the same case in the servant who said, “My Lord delayeth his coming,” and began to beat the servants and to eat and drink and be drunken. And Jesus; expressly declared that such a man would be cut off and appointed his portion with unbelievers (Lk. 12:45, 46). There are men who claim to be God’s watchmen who dismiss the whole subject of Bible prophecy as though it were jigsaw puzzle for nitwits to worry about.
I grant you that there are false watchmen of another sort who have gone to seed on prophecy, who read into the Bible what is not there and read out of it what is there, who see bugaboos and hobgoblins and cry “Wolf” when there is no wolf. Some of these alarmists are the sort who picked out Mussolini for the Antichrist, and are now spending their time trying to rescue their reputations. But for every false watchman of this kind who cries “Wolf” when there is no wolf, there are a hundred who preach peace when there is no peace. And God is saying of these professional “take-it-easy” crooners trying to lull a sick world to sleep with social gospel bedtime stories, “Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord” (Jer. 23: 16). The faithful watchman is called a pessimist, a pulpit hoot owl, but Micah was willing to be a hoot-owl preacher, “I will make … mourning as the owls” (1:8). Better be God’s hoot owl than the devil’s mockingbird!
The text sets before us not only a watchman but also the night. It is evident to all who have eyes to see that we are in the midst of moral and spiritual, social and political, national and international darkness. It is enough simply to stand with our Bibles opened at the third chapter of Second Timothy and look out on the maddening whirl of these awful days. I see nations tottering in a world gone crazy; and I read, “In the last days perilous times shall come.” I see men living for self and none beside, just as if Jesus had never lived, just as if He had never died; and I read, “Men shall be lovers of their own selves.” I see men living for what they can grab, not what they can give; and I read that men shall be “covetous”; I hear men boast of human greatness while civilization tumbles on our heads; and I read that men shall be “proud, boasters, heady, high-minded.” I behold nations at war against God; I read of parties in our own land where men come representing different gods and some representing Almighty God; and I read that men shall be “blasphemers.” I see a young generation without authority inside or out, our home life a thing of the past; and I read that men shall be “disobedient to parents.”
I behold a land that has struck sex o’clock, that is up to its ears in slop and sophistication, petting dogs instead of children, and rotten with social diseases; and I read that men shall be “unholy, without natural affection … incontinent.” I see our jails filled with young hoodlums, our crime rate the disgrace of civilization, with cutthroats living in mansions and gangsters in high places; and I read that “evil men … shall wax worse and worse,” that men shall be “fierce, despisers of those that are good.” I notice that a man’s word means nothing today, that business contracts, marriage vows, and national treaties are only scraps of paper; and I read that men shall be “tracebreakers.” I see pleasure resorts jammed, theaters and stadiums packed, night clubs crowded, while a corporal’s guard holds forth at the house of the Lord; and I read that men shall be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
I visit the churches and find that saints who were born in revival fires are living in the smoke; that meeting-houses have become mausoleums, and that the glory has departed from the sanctuary; and I read that men shall have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof. Sardis has a name to be alive but is dead; the icicles of indifference hang over churches that ought to be melted in the fires of God. Truly, the night is upon us. God is writing on the wall; the astrologers and soothsayers cannot read it and men will not believe Daniel; even some preachers ignore him although our Lord called special attention to him and advised us to read up on what Daniel had to say. “Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” (Matt. 16: 3).
The text presents next a momentous question: “Watchman, WHAT OF THE NIGHT?” and a double answer, “THE MORNING COMETH, AND ALSO THE NIGHT.” Is the world growing better or worse? It is growing both better and worse. The wheat and the tares both are growing until harvest. Real Christians are turning back to their Bibles, drawing nearer to God, separating from evil, witnessing to Christ. There is the sound of a going in the mulberry trees. Bible schools, Bible conferences, radio preachers, youth movements, laymen’s movements, all are a sign that the Spirit of God is stirring among the saints. God is in the sifting business these days. He is drawing unto Himself out of all the churches those Christians who mean business with Him and separating them from the great mass of Sunday-morning churchgoers who have never caught on to what it is all about. As the night grows darker, these Christians grow brighter, and for them “the morning cometh” because Christ will return for His own.
But the world itself is growing worse. Evil men are waxing worse and worse. The mystery of lawlessness heads up to its awful climax, and the apostate church grows larger and larger. Don’t be deceived because once in a while a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, and a Protestant preacher unite in a union service. That is not a sign that the world is growing better. It is a sign that it is growing worse. When church groups begin uniting, that is usually a sign of weakness, not strength. They are getting so weak individually that they have to bunch up in self-defense. When you are sick and several doctors hold a consultation, it is not always a sign that you are up against a predicament: sometimes it is a sign that the doctors are! Sometimes they are puzzled and have to get their heads together on the basis that in unity there is strength. And don’t get the idea that the millennium is just around the corner because some infidel writes a nice piece about Jesus. The tragedy of today is that too many people are saying nice things about Jesus and doing nothing for Him. They are complimenting Him, but not confessing Him.
The world is growing worse, and for the world “the night cometh,” the night of judgment and tribulation. We read that at the last supper Judas went out, “and it was night” (John 13: 30). The world has gone out with its back turned on Jesus, and away from Jesus it is always night. The night of this world’s distress will be followed by the night of eternal separation from God. The world has plenty of trouble today but nothing to compare with what faces it. “If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?” (Jer. 12:5). “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Pet. 4: 17, 18). “The morning cometh” for the believer, “and also the night” for the unbeliever, with the sun turning black, the moon changing to blood, the stars falling like untimely figs, judgment breaking, the books opening—the eternal night of the second death, with fire unquenchable and the undying worm of everlasting misery in the agony of endless despair. For men who choose darkness rather than light in this present world must endure darkness forever.
God has told us what to expect. There is absolutely no reason for wringing our hands and wondering what we are coming to. We have the Word of God, which tells us where we came from, where we are, and where we are going. The churches are at sea today because they have lost their perspective. They refuse to believe that God is not out to convert the world, but to take out a people for His Name. If we don’t know where we are headed, we don’t know what to do where we are. I know that some serious-minded Christians have been scared away from the subject of prophecy by the antics of some prophecy preachers. But the same thing might be said of sanctification or any other Bible doctrine. And the issue is bigger and broader than pre- and post-millennialism. The issue is between two different viewpoints of the plan and purpose of God through the ages. It boils down to this: Will the preaching of the Gospel and the work of the churches gradually win this world to Christ, until evil is mastered by righteousness and the devil is put out of business? Or will the world steadily grow worse while God calls out a people to Himself, until Christ returns personally and suddenly to rule and reign? Here are two entirely different viewpoints, and they cannot possibly be brought together, for they are antithetical, not complementary. No man can possibly be working for both at the same time, nor can two looking in absolutely opposite directions work together for the Lord. It would require a spiritual cross-eyedness that reminds me of the boy who could hunt rabbits and squirrels at the same time, one eye looking up in the trees for squirrels, the other watching the ground for rabbits.
The plain fact is that evil must run its awful course, and then Christ is coming: and the main question is, How will He find me when He comes? Some He will find SCOFFING, saying, “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Pet. 3: 4). One hears even from some pulpit the very arguments Peter said the scoffers would use: “Since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” In other words, “people have been excited before and thought Jesus was coming. History runs along about the same and today is nothing unusual.” It is true that people have been mistaken before about the Lord’s return. But while this sign and that have appeared through the years, there has never been the combination of signs that has converged upon us today. And while just at this moment everything is in such a confusion that it is impossible to figure out details because nations go out of business or change sides overnight, the main mark of the hour is that the whole world has reached such a hopeless situation that absolutely nothing but Divine intervention can begin to untangle the insane scramble. We have reached the point where only Almighty God can assemble the jig-saw puzzle of this crazy generation. Any man who can stand in such a day and speak lightly of the signs of the times is himself a sign of the end, for “there shall come in the last days SCOFFERS, walking after their own lusts.” While some will be SCOFFING when our Lord returns, others will be taken up with SURFEITING. “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares” (Lk. 21:34). Here are those who say, “My lord delayeth his coming” and begin to beat the servants, to eat and drink and be drunken (Lk. 12: 45). Was there ever a word that described better this generation? Would you not think that in such an hour, with the foundations crumbling, with humanity wallowing in blood and tears, churches would be crowded and men setting their houses in order and getting right with God? Far from it; revelry and not repentance is the spirit of the age. America is at the night club, not at the prayer meeting. Even the saints have caught the fever and Christianity has been made a frolic instead of a fight, a picnic instead of a pilgrimage. The only fire left in many a church is down in the kitchen, where a defeated handful pour hot chocolate and read the minutes of the last meeting in a cheap imitation of the clubs of this world. “But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoiced as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away (1 Cor. 7: 29-31). Surely in the face of such a verse, tone it down as you will, we need to watch and be sober, lest that day catch us eating and drinking as in the days of Noah.
Still others will be SLEEPING. “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed” (Rom. 13: n). I have observed in the past few years that a strange stupor has fallen over the church of God. There are many things that account for it but the devil is behind it all. For one thing, people are tired. They have been so bewildered with the things that are happening that they are dizzy. They ran themselves out of breath trying to outrun the depression, and now they are breaking their necks trying to get all they can, until when they sit down at church they are exhausted. Then they have listened to so much from platform and pulpit and radio, read so much from papers and magazines, been preached at and preached to, lectured and electioneered, cussed and discussed, gypped and cheated and lied to, and have bought gold bricks and white elephants, until they come to church with their fingers crossed, ready to take what they hear with a grain of salt, and the preacher has two strikes against him before he utters a word. Besides all that, the devil has cocained and chloroformed this present age, until a strange coma has settled over the saints, as well as the sinners, and our eyelids are heavy and our brains are clouded, and unless we stir up the gift of God within us and get down to business watching and praying, our Lord shall come suddenly and find us sound asleep.
We need to bestir ourselves and keep on the firing line for God, so that when our Lord comes we shall not be engaged in SCOFFING or SURFEITING or SLEEPING, but SERVING; not merely occupied with His coming, but occupying till He come, We want to be found “In him” (Phil, 3:9), found watching (1 Thess. 5: 6), found in peace (2 Pet, 3: 14), found faithful (1 Cor. 4: 2), I am afraid that there is a sort of theoretical interest in the Lord’s return prevalent among the saints that somehow does not seem to get hitched up to practical service. Some of the brethren are SIGHING over the times and wondering what we are coming to, but that is poor business for a Christian, who ought to know what we are coming to and be joyfully looking for his Lord to come. Others are STUDYING about it, and can give you remarkable explanations of the order of events and the meaning of 666 in Revelation, but, somehow, it is just a hobby that doesn’t translate itself into action. Again, some of the saints are SINGING about the second coming, but it is one tiling just to sing the national anthem during the war and quite another to go into battle. The best evidence that the Lord’s return has really gotten hold of us is when we occupy till He come, do business for God, buy up the opportunities, because the days are evil.
The watchman in our text adds, “IF YE WILL ENQUIRE, ENQUIRE YE: RETURN, COME.” The need of the hour is a return to God, first of all on the part of God’s people. And we need a watchman, a prophet, to call them to repentance. I have studied a lot about what ails the church today, I have prayed and watched and read and listened and tried to get my finger on the pulse of our spiritual life today the best way I know how, and I have come to the conclusion that one of our serious troubles is this: we have ignored and neglected and sometimes condemned one of the gifts of Christ to the church, the NEW TESTAMENT PROPHET. I read, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4: 11, 12). When we use the word “prophet,” we usually think of some of the Old Testament worthies, Elijah or Isaiah or Amos, or else we think of some prophecy expert predicting the end of all things. But a prophet has a work as distinctive and important as an evangelist or pastor or teacher. The list begins with “apostles,” who were eyewitnesses of the resurrection, and who included Paul and Barnabas as especially designated by Christ and the Spirit. Of course, there are no apostles in that sense now. There are some who speak of this man or that as “an apostle of righteousness,” for instance, but that is a general term for a man sent on a special mission. But there are still prophets whose business is to speak to edification, exhortation, and comfort (1 Cor. 14:3), that is, to strengthen, stir, and soothe the saints. His work may remind you of a teacher in his edification, of an evangelist in his exhortation, and of a pastor in his comfort, but he is neither. He is a prophet whose ministry is not so much explanation as application, who stands in the gap and calls God’s people back to the Lord. He does not predict the future, he gives out what God has already predicted in His Word. He is not a foreteller but a forthteller, a voice in the wilderness, a watchman on the tower, a watchdog over the flock.
And notice that he comes ahead of evangelist, teacher, and pastor. And right there we uncover one of our troubles in the church today. We are trying to do the work of the evangelist, teacher, and pastor, when we need first a prophet to call the saints to confession and conversion. Evangelism is important, but it follows revival, and we have sidestepped revival in favor of teaching the saints, with occasional appeals to the sinners. The prophet needs to go ahead and stir up the church and call men to break up their fallow ground and prepare their own hearts. When the lost joy of salvation is restored to Christians, then will transgressors be taught God’s ways and sinners be converted. After the prophet, the evangelist can reap the harvest among the lost; and then the teacher can teach the converts, and the pastor can shepherd them. But we have put the cart before the horse, and we have passed up the prophet and used the term only as a general designation of a preacher when God gave him a peculiar job as definite as teaching or the pastorate.
There is a reason behind all this. Christians do not like to have their sins exposed, and church officials do not like to have Nathan pointing a finger at them saying, “Thou art the man.” Churches do not like to have their ailments diagnosed, they like to be let alone at ease in Zion, while the preacher either tickles their ears with a pleasant sermon or goes after the unconverted, who are not even there. They say the sins of the church should not be exposed to the world. Don’t worry, the world has discovered them long ago! Denominations resent the prophet’s call to repentance because sometimes he has to point out denominational sins that ought to be confessed, and they say he is not “loyal.” So prophets are not wanted, and therefore they are scarce, for few there be who will take up such a thankless ministry. People will go out to hear an evangelist or a teacher or a pastor, but they never fall over each other going to hear prophets. Prophets have been unpopular from the very beginning. God told Isaiah and Ezekiel that people would not heed their message. Jesus accused His people of persecuting the prophets of the past, and Stephen asked, “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?” (Acts 7:52). We are told to covet the prophetic gift. (1 Cor. 14:39), but there are few candidates for it today, partly because it has been scandalized by false prophets but more because people don’t like prophets, at least until after k they are dead. The prophet usually is stoned while he lives, but another generation gathers up the stones and builds a monument in his honor.
But we shall never see a real awakening until the prophet is recognized and until the church repents. Our Lord’s last word to the church was not the Great Commission, but a call to repentance, over in Revelation. Ephesus has left her first love, and, according to our Lord’s own words, she must REMEMBER whence she has fallen and REPENT and RE-DO—do again the first works, the works she started out doing and the works she started out to do.
We are talking evangelism and adding numbers to our churches before the churches are fit to receive new members. We are listening to Bible teaching, with sin complacently covered up in our lives. Pastors are wringing their hands over conditions in their churches, when, perhaps, they should turn prophet for the time being, or call in some brother who is a prophet, if such can be found. The time is come that judgment—self-judgment—should begin at the house of God before the fires of corrective judgment, which must begin at the house of God, break in all their fury. Away with all this armchair speculative study of prophecy that does not bring us to our knees! Away with this defeatist doctrine that there can never be another revival! It is an alibi to cover our sins, and “he that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13). Let us hear the prophet of old, “IF YE WILL ENQUIRE, ENQUIRE YE, RETURN, COME.” Get back to God in your hearts and in your homes and in your churches. Do not be satisfied to sing every Sunday morning, “There SHALL BE showers of blessing.” If the showers do not come, it is a hollow mockery. God is not to blame. There CAN BE showers of blessing; there MUST BE; there WILL BE when we mean business and get right with God!