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Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books

2 Peter 3

Verses 1-18

Chapter Three - Looking On To The Culmination

As Peter looked forward to the day when he should seal his own testimony for Christ by laying down his life, as the Lord had foretold, he was the more anxious to arouse the saints generally to the importance of maintaining their confidence in what God had revealed concerning the prophetic future, or as we say, “the last things.” He had already reminded those to whom he wrote that prophecy is a lamp to lighten the pilgrim alone the dark road as he pursues his way through this world to the Canaan rest which will be his at the end of the journey.

Now Peter stresses the importance of keeping the testimony of the prophets and apostles in mind, when many will spurn them entirely.

Forgetting The Past And Denying The Future

“This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: that ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour: knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men”(2 Peter 3:1-7).

In writing this Second Letter, guided by the Spirit of God, Peter was not endeavoring so much to open up new vistas of truth as to stir up the minds of the saints to the tremendous importance of keeping in memory what they had learned already. The words which were spoken in Old Testament times by the holy prophets, and the additional revelations communicated through the apostles of the new dispensation, should never be forgotten. Peter himself wrote as one of the latter group, having been definitely commissioned as an apostle by the Lord Jesus, and recognized by his brethren as being peculiarly adapted to make known the gospel to the Jews. When Paul tells us in the Epistle to the Galatians that the brethren at Jerusalem acknowledged that the gospel of the uncircumcision had been committed to him as that of the circumcision had been committed to Peter (Galatians 2:7) we are not to suppose that he meant thereby that there was any fundamental difference in the messages themselves. It was rather that God had fitted Paul in a very definite way to carry the gospel to the Gentiles; whereas Peter was more adapted to minister the Word of grace to the Jews. As a result of his ministry many of the dispersion had been brought to know the Lord. And in obedience to the command given Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee he undertook to feed these sheep and lambs of Christ’s flock both by word of mouth and in these Epistles. He puts before them, therefore, in the strongest possible way the necessity of keeping in mind the Holy Scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments. The Old Testament had been complete for centuries, but the New Testament was not yet complete; nevertheless many of its books were in circulation already, and among them were all the Epistles of Paul, as we shall see later in considering the closing verses of this same chapter. Recognizing in these books the testimony of God Himself who, by the Holy Spirit, had inspired the human authorship of each portion of the Word, Peter urges the saints not to neglect the Scriptures but ever keep them in their hearts, in order that they may shed light not only on the present pathway but also on the future to which they were hastening. It had been predicted again and again by both prophets and apostles that in the last days there would be those who would utterly repudiate the truth of a divine revelation as to the return of the Lord. These scoffers would hate the truth because it interfered with their own selfish desires, and would sneer at the very possibility of the second advent of the Saviour. That of which Peter spoke as being in the future and as that which would be manifested in the last days we now see fully developed all around us. Everywhere we find men walking after their own ungodly lusts, deriding the doctrine of the imminent return of the Lord as though it were something utterly ridiculous and not to be considered for a moment by sober-minded people. Even in the pulpits of professedly orthodox churches there are many ministers today who take this stand, either denying that the Bible itself teaches the second coming of Christ, or else maintaining that even though predicted by Christ and taught by His apostles, it is all to be looked upon as an idle dream. These men ask contemptuously, “Where is the promise of His coming?” They declare that “since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation”-that is, they insist that there is no evidence whatever in the history of the past or in conditions prevailing at the present time that indicate the fulfilment of any prophetic declarations. Though wise as to the things of this world, they are absolutely ignorant of the signs of the times-signs which spiritually-minded and godly men discern readily, but which these carnal and sensual leaders of religious thought ignore completely. As in the days before the flood the men of Noah’s day refused to give credence to the testimony of the Lord in regard to a coming judgment and knew not until the flood came and took them all away, so will it be with many in this generation who contemptuously discard all that Scripture teaches in regard to the coming day of the Lord; while all the time the world is rushing forward into the fearful vortex of that day of wrath.

Many have forgotten that “by the Word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished.” The men who lived in antediluvian times said unto God, “Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways” (Job 21:14). As Eliphaz reminded Job when he said, “Hast thou marked the old way which wicked men have trodden? which were cut down out of time, whose foundation was overflown with a flood: which said unto God, Depart from us: and what can the Almighty do for them? Yet He filled their houses with good things: but the counsel of the wicked is far from Me” (Job 22:15-18). So it will be with many in this age. They are willingly ignorant of God’s dealings with men in the past, and therefore refuse to believe in any predictions of judgments to come.

There is something very striking in the expression, “Kept in store, reserved unto fire.” The passage might be translated “the heavens and the earth are stored with fire, awaiting the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” We might have some conception of what this means as we think of the fearful catastrophe produced by the atomic bomb, which was, even to those who discovered it, a terrible revelation of the powers for destruction which are reserved in the heavens. When earth’s long day has run its course there will come not another flood but a universal conflagration which will sweep this globe clean of all that men have built up during the millennia of the past, and prepare for a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.

The Day Of The Lord And The Day Of God

“But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (2 Peter 3:8-14).

Because these wilfully ignorant men do not see the evidences of this they deny what they do not understand, and, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil,” as we are told in the book of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 8:11). If judgment seems to tarry it is not because God has forgotten, but rather because of His deep concern about lost men whom, in His loving-kindness, He still desires to save. Our thoughts are not His thoughts, neither are our ways His ways, but as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways above our ways, and His thoughts above our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). A thousand years may seem a long time to men whose span of life very seldom reaches a century, but one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. Not two days have passed, therefore, according to the divine reckoning, since the Lord Jesus went away after giving the promise, “I will come again” (John 14:3). It is not, then, that the Lord is slack regarding His promise, as men are disposed to think, but His heart still goes out to those who are persisting in rebellion against Him; and He waits in grace still proclaiming the gospel message, and offering salvation to all who turn to Him in repentance, because He is not willing that any should perish.

But when at last the day of grace is ended the day of the Lord will succeed it, and that day will come to unbelievers as a thief in the night. The day of the Lord is not to be confounded with the day of Christ, which refers to the return of the Lord in the air to call His saints to be with Himself, when they will appear before His judgment-seat to be rewarded according to the measure of their faithfulness to Him while they have been pilgrims here below. The day of the Lord follows that. It will be the time when the judgments of God are being poured out upon the earth. It includes the descent of the Lord with all His saints to execute judgment on His foes, and to take pos- session of the kingdom so long predicted, and to reign in righteousness for a thousand glorious years in this very world where He once was crucified. As that great day of the Lord closes the heavens and the earth shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat. This last expression is far easier understood today than it ever has been in past centuries, because of recent discoveries in connection with the explosive power of certain elements, such as uranium, when brought under terrific pressure. Following the destruction of the created heavens and this lower universe as we now know them, will come the fulfilment of the prediction of Isaiah (Isaiah 65:17) concerning a new heaven and a new earth wherein righteousness will dwell forever. This eternal condition is the day of God, in view of which the present created heavens and earth will be destroyed. The day of God is unending; it includes all the ages to come when sin will be forever banished from the universe, and righteousness will be everywhere manifest. Righteousness suffers during the present age. Those who would walk in obedience to the Word of God often are persecuted by those who seek to maintain the present order of things. In the millennium righteousness will reign: the authority of the Lord Jesus will be everywhere established, and evil will be held down; but in the eternal state righteousness will dwell, for all evil will have been banished to the lake of fire.

A Final Warning

“And account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:15-18).

So then God’s patience and long-suffering with mankind throughout all the centuries of human history are ever with a view to the salvation of any who will turn to Him, confessing their sin and believing the message of His grace.

Peter adds, “Even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you.” This is very clearly an authentication of the Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews. There can be no other writing to which he refers in this verse. As we have seen, Peter himself was addressing converted Jews or Hebrews. He tells us that the Apostle Paul had written a letter to the same people. There is no other of Paul’s letters addressed to converted Jews but the Epistle to the Hebrews. And in that Epistle to the Hebrews Paul corroborates the testimony of Peter in regard to these eschatological truths which he has just been unfolding. In Hebrews 12:25-29 we get this corroborative testimony: “See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused Him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven: whose voice then shook the earth: but now He hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.” Here we have set forth exactly the same truths that the Apostle Peter has been stressing. There should be no question, therefore, but that Peter was declaring that Paul was the author of this particular Epistle.

Then Peter goes on to say that in this special letter to the Hebrews, as also in all his Epistles, Paul had spoken of these things; and in these letters there are “some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” In this way Peter acknowledges Paul’s letters to be accepted by all believers as the very Word of God. There are, in the Epistle to the Hebrews particularly, a number of passages which have caused untold distress to those who have but a feeble understanding of God’s great plan. Take such passages, for instance, as Hebrews 6:4-8; Hebrews 10:26-31. How often has the devil used these scriptures to trouble unstable souls with the awful thought that perhaps they have committed some unpardonable sin and so are hopelessly beyond the reach of mercy! While the passages themselves suggest nothing of the kind, yet they have been used of the enemy to disturb many. In others of Paul’s writings there are passages which have been misused in the same way, but more notable in Hebrews than in any other Epistle.

Peter closes with two admonitions. In verse 17 (2 Peter 3:17) he says, “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness.” No one will ever thus fail who keeps his eyes on Christ and his heart fixed on those things that are above where Christ sits at God’s right hand. Doctrinal error of a serious character is almost invariably connected with some moral failure. As we walk before God in holiness of life we will be preserved from destructive heresies, and as we walk in the truth we will be kept from sin in the life.

The final admonition is found in the last verse (2 Peter 3:18): “Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” This is the unfailing panacea for all spiritual ills. As we go on to know Christ better and become increasingly like Him, and as we feed upon His Word, and it has its sway over our hearts, our progress will be consistent and continuous.

The final doxology is a very brief but a very precious one: “To Him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.” How Peter’s own heart must have been moved as he wrote these words! He had known Christ intimately in the days of His flesh; he himself had failed so grievously on the night of the betrayal; he had been restored so blessedly, both secretly and publicly, by the Lord Himself: so that Christ had become the all-absorbing passion of his soul. He alone deserved all the praise and all the glory, and that to the age of ages-the uttermost limits of that day of God, the day of eternity of which we have been reading.

Verse 8

Part I

The Evidence That The Church Of God Is About To Close Its Earthly History

Even in apostolic days the near return of the Lord Jesus was ever kept before the souls of believers as a present hope; yet there are many scriptures that in a hidden way (as we can now realize) intimated a certain series of events, or succession of conditions, which would run their course ere the blessed hope was fulfilled. In the wisdom of God these prophetic forecasts of the Church’s history were couched in terms of such a nature as not to hinder Christians of any period in their continued expectancy of the Lord’s coming, which was designed to be a great sheet-anchor to their souls, keeping them from drifting into worldliness and kindred folly.

But now that nearly twenty centuries (two of God’s great “days”-2 Peter 3:8) have elapsed, we can look back over the long course of the Church’s pilgrimage and see how all her varied states and experiences were foreknown and foretold, and the heart thrills with joyful expectancy as we look ahead. For the next great miraculous event must be the shining forth of the Morning Star, “the coming of the Lord Jesus, and our gathering together unto Him.”

I purpose to trace this out from several different standpoints. In our introduction we have noticed briefly how the Lord Himself intimated what has been mentioned in the parable of the ten virgins. It was a veiled picture of the whole course of Christendom, and plainly divides the Church dispensation into three distinct stages, or epochs: First, the period of eager expectation. Second, the era of lethargic indifference to the blessed hope. Third, the season of awakening which was the almost immediate precursor of the coming of the Bridegroom. We are living in this last solemn time, and it is well to be trimming our lamps and waiting in holy fear for the summons which may come at any moment to enter in with Him to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

The parable of the Ten Virgins was not given, it is true, to teach Church truth, but it presents in a graphic way the responsibility of saints to wait for the return of the Lord.

There are other passages corroborative of this interpretation, and to them let us now turn.

In the two epistles to Timothy we have two distinct conditions predicted as characterizing what the Holy Spirit designates “the latter times” and “the last days.” In 1 Timothy 4:1-5 He speaks of the first of these periods; in 2 Timothy 3:1-9, of the second. A careful reading of both passages ought, I think, to convince any reader that they show the progress of evil.

At any rate, the conditions of the “latter times” were the first to develop, and out of these grew the anarchic state of the “last days.”

I quote the first scripture in full: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared (Gk., cauterized); forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1911 Version).

Now while the various things here credited to demoniacal influence are found in many modern systems, such as Christian Science, Seventh-day Adventism, and others, it is very evident that it was in connection with the Romish apostasy they were first introduced. The “latter times” were the times of Papal domination. Their evil teachings are still to be found on many sides, but the point I want to make is that the latter times have long since been passed, and we are further down the course of time than many have supposed.

Note well how Rome has fulfilled these predictions to the letter. Departing from the faith of God’s word, she has been misled by evil spirits seducing her devotees to believe that the church cannot err, and that her voice is the voice of inspiration. Thus has Satan foisted doctrines of demons on the blinded nations. Rome, the very citadel of untruth, has spoken lies in hypocrisy, her leaders having cauterized consciences which seemed immune to all Scriptural appeals. This the Reformation proved, when God “gave her space to repent…and she repented not” (Revelation 2:21).

But one might say: “All this is mere assumption. You tell us Rome is demon-led. You tell us her hierarchy teach lies in hypocrisy. But this is the very point to be proven. What outward evidence have you that she is the guilty one?”

In reply we turn to verse 3, where God has given us two great marks which none can successfully deny fit Rome, as they fully describe no other large communion. It was Rome who forbade to marry-enjoining an unnatural celibacy upon her vast clergy and her hosts of monks and nuns, thus setting herself up to be wiser than God (who says: “Marriage is honorable in all,” Hebrews 13:4), be-littling His holy ordinance of matrimony, declaring the celibate nun far holier than the married mother, and the unwedded priest in a higher state of grace than the godly husband and father.

And what of the second mark? Who has so assiduously cultivated the dogma that piety is manifested in abstention from certain foods, as Rome? God created all to be received with thanksgiving. Rome would damn the one who ate flesh on Fridays and gave God thanks therefor! Her numberless rules on such subjects declare all too plainly that she it is who is marked out in 1 Timothy 4:1-5. Others have been deluded by the same demons, but it was in the Roman apostasy that the “latter times” came in.

Now let us turn to the second epistle: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be self-lovers, money-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; from such turn away. For of this sort are they who creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with manifold desires, ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all, as theirs also was” (1911 Version).

These are the great outstanding features of the “last days”-closing the Church dispensation, and to be immediately followed by the coming of the Lord. Can any believer in Holy Writ doubt our being now in the very midst of them?

But it may be here objected: “When have men in general been other than as here depicted? Is not this but a repetition, of what Paul has already said in describing the heathen world in his day? (Romans 1:29-32). In what special sense are they any more characteristic now than then?” To these very natural queries I reply: “Such things, indeed, ever described the heathen; but in 2 Timothy 3:0 the Holy Spirit is describing conditions in the professing Church in the last days! It is not the openly wicked and godless who are being depicted here. It is those who have a form of godliness, while denying its power. This is what makes the passage so intensely solemn and gives it such tremendous weight in the present day. There are twenty-one outstanding features in this depicting of Church conditions in the last days, and that each may have its due weight with my reader I touch briefly on them in order.

1. “Men shall be self-lovers.” It is men self-occupied, as contrasted with the godly of all ages who found their joy and delight in looking away from self to God as seen in Christ. This is the age of the egotist in matters spiritual as well as carnal. They find their God “within” them, we are told, and not without. They make no secret of it. When they profess to love God it is themselves they love.

2. “Money-lovers.” Is it necessary to speak of this? Colossal fortunes heaped together by men who profess to believe the Bible and its testimony! What a spectacle for angels and demons! There was one Simon Magus of old. He has myriads of successors in the professing church to-day, and the command “not to eat” with a covetous man or an extortioner is in most places a dead letter indeed.

3. “Boasters.” Read the so-called Christian papers; attend Christendom’s great conventions of young people, or old. Listen to the great pulpiteers of the day. What is their theme? “Rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing!” Great swelling words are rapturously applauded by people dwelling in a fool’s paradise, even when uttered by men who are tearing the Bible to shreds, and who deny practically every truth that it contains.

4. “Proud.” So proud as to glory in their shame-congratulating themselves on the very things the Word of God so unsparingly condemns. Proud of their fancied superiority; proud of their eloquence; proud of their miscalled culture; proud of their very impiety, which is hailed as the evidence of broad-mindedness and a cultivated intellect! How nauseating it must all be to Him who said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.”

5. “Blasphemers!” Yes, there it is-that big, ugly word that one hesitates to use, but which is chosen by the Holy Spirit Himself to describe the men drawing salaries as ministers of Christ who use their office to impiously deny His name! Blasphemers! Aye, the whole host of the new theologians, miscalled “higher critics,” and all their ilk-all who deny the deity of the Son, His virgin-birth, His holy humanity- blasphemers, every one, and as such to be judged unsparingly in the harvest of wrath so near at hand! And think of the disloyalty to Christ of Christians- real Christians, I mean-who can sit and listen to such men week after week, and are too timid to protest, or too indifferent to obey the word, “From such turn away!”

6. “Disobedient to parents.” It is one of the crowning sins of the age, and indicates the soon breaking-up of the whole social fabric as at pres- ent constituted. Opposition to authority is undoubtedly one of the characteristic features of the times. Children will not brook restraint, and parents have largely lost the sense of their responsibility toward the rising generation. Does this seem unduly pessimistic? Nevertheless, a little thoughtful consideration will, I am sure, convince any reasonable person of its truth. And it may be laid down as an axiom, that children not trained in obedience to parents will not readily be obedient to God. We have been sowing the wind in this respect for years, as nations and as families. The reaping of the whirlwind is certain to follow.

7. “Unthankful.” It is the denial of divine Providence-utterly forgetting the Source of all blessings, both temporal and spiritual. Straws indicate the turn of the wind, and even in “so small a matter,” as some may call it, as the giving-up of the good old-fashioned and eminently scriptural custom of thanksgiving at the table, we may see how prevalent is the sin of unthankfulness among professed Christians. Go into the restaurants or other eating-houses; how often can you tell the believer from the unbeliever?

8. “Unholy.” The godly separation from the world according to the Bible is sneered at as “bigotry” and “Puritanism.” In its place has come a jolly, rollicking worldliness that ill comports with the Christian profession. Piety-that characteristic Christian virtue-how little seen now! It is not necessary to be outwardly vile to be unholy. Giving up the line of separation between the believer and the unbeliever is un-holiness.

9. “Without natural affection.” The foundations of family life are being destroyed. Un-scriptural divorces and all their kindred evils cast their dark shadows over the professing church, as well as over the body politic.

Of the next unholy octave I need not write particularly. To enumerate them is enough to stir the heart and appal the soul when it is remembered how they are tolerated and spreading through the great professing body. 10-“unforgiving;” 11-“false accusers” (let us beware lest we be found almost unwittingly in this Satanic company!); 12 -“incontinent”; 13 -“savage”; 14-“haters of good;” 15-“traitors”; 16 -“heady;” 17-“high-minded.” This last accounts largely for the daring things proudly uttered by learned doctors against the Scriptures and the great fundamentals of the faith, and complacently accepted by unregenerate hearers. Surely, the time has come “when they will not bear sound teaching, but according to their own desire shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3, 1911 Version).

18. “Lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.” Would you not almost think the words were written by some fiery-souled exhorter of the present day? How aptly they characterize in one brief clause the greatest outstanding feature of the religious world. The Church of God has gone into the entertainment business! People must be amused, and as the Church needs the people’s money, the Church must, perforce, supply the demand and meet the craving! How else are godless hypocrites to be held together? How otherwise can the throngs of unconverted youths and maidens be attracted to the “services”? So the picture-show and the entertainment, in the form of musicale (sacred, perhaps!) and minstrel-show, take the place of the gospel address and the solemn worship of God. And thus Christless souls are lulled to sleep and made to feel “religious” while gratifying every carnal desire under the sanction of the sham called the Church!-And the end? What an awakening!

19. “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” Men must have some form of religious expression, and so the outward thing is sustained after the life is gone out of it. Thus formality prevails where regeneration, conversion to God, the Spirit’s sanctification, and everything really vital has long since been virtually denied. The bulk of so-called church-members do not even profess to have been saved, or to be Spirit-indwelt. All this is foreign to their mode of thought or speech. The gospel, which alone is “the power of God unto salvation,” is seldom preached, and, by the mass, never missed! Could declension and apostasy go much further? Yet there are still lower depths to be sounded!

20. Feminism. No, you won’t find the word-but read verse 6 again, slowly and thoughtfully. Does it not indicate a great feminist movement in these last dark days? “Silly women, laden with manifold desires”-craving what God in His in- finite wisdom has forbidden them: authority, publicity, masculinity, and what not? Thus they leave their own estate and make a new religion to suit themselves. Is it a matter of no import that just such emotional, insubject women were the tools used by Satan for the starting and propagating of so many modern fads? Need one mention Mesdames Blavatsky, Besant and Tingley of Theosophy; the Fox sisters’ relation to modern Spiritism; Mrs. Mary Baker Glover Eddy and her host of female practitioners in the woman’s religion miscalled “Christian Science;” the neurotic Ellen G. White and her visionary system of “Seventh-day Adventism;” Ella Wheeler Wilcox and her associates in the spreading of what they have been pleased to denominate the “New Thought,” which is only the devil’s old lie, “Ye shall be as gods,” in a modern garb; and the women-expounders of the “Silent Unity,” or “Home of Truth” delusions? All these are outside the “orthodox” fold; -but when we look within, what a large place has the modern feminist movement secured in the affections of women who profess to believe the Bible, but who unblushingly denounce Paul as “an old batchelor” with narrow, contracted ideas, little realizing that they are thereby rejecting the testimony of the Holy Spirit. It is one of the signs of the times, and clearly shows towards what the professing body is so rapidly drifting!

21. “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth”-and that by their own confession. They are “truth-seekers.” Ask them if it be not so. They confess it without a blush, and consider it humility thus to speak. According to these apostates, the Church which began as “the pillar and ground of the truth,” is, in this twentieth century of its existence, “seeking” the truth, thereby acknowledging they never yet have found it! Truth-seekers! Yet the Lord Jesus said, “I am the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life.” Why then seek further? Because they have drifted away from Him and His Word, so they go on, ever learning, ever seeking, and ever missing the glorious revelation of the TRUTH as it is in Jesus.

Well-this is the end. Declension can go no further than to deny the Lord that bought them, until He Himself shall remove His own to the Father’s house. Then the apostate body remaining will declare, “We have found the truth at last!” and they will worship the Antichrist, believing the devil’s lie and calling it the truth. And how comes such delusion? “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie; that they all might be judged who believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12-1911 Version).

Predictions of two directly opposite conditions are made in the word of God in regard to events to be consummated immediately before the Lord’s return to establish His kingdom and close up the Times of the Gentiles. If therefore we see these predictions within a small degree of being already fulfilled prior to the rapture of the Church, we may be certain that the coming of the Saviour to the air is very near at hand.

The predictions referred to were made-one directly by the Lord Himself; the other by the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul. To the question of the disciples, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming and of the end of the age?” the Lord gave a lengthy answer recorded in Matthew, chaps. 24 and 25; but the prediction I refer to now is that of the 14th verse of chap. 24: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all the nations; and then shall the end come.” Now I recognize, in common with others, a distinction in aspect between “the gospel of the kingdom” and “the gospel of the grace of God,” but I regard it as a mistake to say that the gospel of the kingdom is not, or should not be, preached now. Each are but different aspects of the one gospel; and Paul preached both.

In Acts 20:24, Acts 20:25 we find the two aspects intimately connected in the ministry of the apostle Paul: “None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.” See also Acts 14:22. When he wrote, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus,” it involved the present phase of the gospel of the kingdom; when he added, “And believe in thy heart that God hath raised Him from the dead thou shalt be saved,” it was the gospel of the grace of God. Christ Jesus is Lord. He is also Redeemer. Men are called on to own Him in both characters. In the Jewish age, and in the coming tribulation period, the gospel of the kingdom is the emphatic phase. Now, where there is intelligence, it is the grace of God that the gospel preacher will lay special stress upon.

Now it is the individual believer who owns the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Tribulation era, when Matthew 24:14 will be completely carried out, the whole world will be called on to own the sway of Him who is about to appear as King of kings and Lord of lords to reign over His world-kingdom.

But why this effort to show that the gospel of the kingdom is now being preached? Because, my reader, the end comes when it has been carried into all the world, for a witness! And even now it has gone to the uttermost parts of the earth, so that it can confidently be said that with the possible exception of a few wild tribes of Indians in South America, or negroes in Africa, , there is probably no nation to whom the witness has not already been given. The nineteenth was the greatest missionary century since the days of the apostles. In one hundred years, the gospel was practically carried to the whole world after a millennium of lethargy and indifference to the claims of the heathen. This great missionary awakening is like the trumpet-blasts that herald the King’s approach. In this twentieth century the work of carrying the gospel to the pagan world has gone on more extensively than ever. None can say when the last tribe or nation will get the witness message, but when they do, “then shall the end come.” And, mark it well, it is not before the rapture, but after it, that the final call is to be given. It will be Jewish saints, and not Christian missionaries, who will complete the work of world-wide evangelization; therefore the coming of the Lord as predicted in 1 Thessalonians 4:0 must be very near!

But now we turn to consider the other prediction to which I referred in the beginning. “That day,” writes the apostle, “shall not come except there come the apostasy first” (literal rendering of 2 Thessalonians 2:3). This is startling surely-the gospel going into all the world, the apostasy sweeping all before it, and both just before the end, or the day of the Lord, shall come! How strange a paradox, and yet how exactly are both scriptures being fulfilled! Never before such wide-spread missionary activity! Never before such far-reaching apostasy! Earnest workers guided by the Holy Spirit are hazarding their lives to carry the good news of Christ’s incarnation, atonement, resurrection and coming again to the heathen world. Equally earnest, but Satan-inspired, men at home are tearing the Bible in pieces and railing at these very truths once for all delivered to the saints, and, alas! their unholy rationalizing is fast finding its way into the fields of missionary endeavor, where education is taking the place of the gospel; and culture, charac- ter-building, and various accomplishments are put in place of the Son of God, the Saviour of sinners!

Theological seminaries, in many instances, are hot-beds of infidelity. Schools and colleges are busy, as Harold Bolce graphically expressed it, in “blasting at the Rock of Ages.” The rising generation in so-called Christian lands bids fair to be a generation of Bible-rejectors. “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means, and My people love to have it so, and what will ye do in the end thereof?” That end is almost upon us, and “When the Son of Man cometh shall He find the faith on the earth?” It is fast being supplanted by human speculations and “oppositions of science falsely so-called.”

The leaven of man-worship is rapidly leavening the whole lump and preparing the way for Antichrist who shall, if it were possible, deceive the very elect. Thank God, it is not possible; but it behooves every regenerated soul to hold fast to the revealed Word of God and utterly refuse the lying systems of the enemy. To sit in churches and listen to preachers of the apostasy, or to support such in any way, is treason against Christ! “He that biddeth him [the false teacher] God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”

It would be a great mercy if every converted person would refuse positively to listen twice to a minister who denies the inspiration of the Bible, or to give a penny to a church or a missionary society that gave the right hand of fellowship to men of this type. To stay the on-rushing apos- tasy is impossible. To protest against it and to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkess” is a positive duty.

Reader, let me press my point again.-The world-wide gospel proclamation and world-wide apostasy at the same time are clear proofs that the end is close upon us! It is too late to trifle. Let us be in earnest for the few remaining hours!

Another line of evidence is presented in the seven prophetic letters of Revelation 2:0 and 3. For that they are prophetic, and not merely moral-dispensational, and not simply local in their application-is a fact now familiar to many earnest students of the Scriptures. The proof of this is found in their exact correspondence with the seven stages of the history of the Church on earth. This is incontrovertible, however self-styled optimists may object to it-the objection being chiefly based on the fact that Laodicea closes the septenary series, thus precluding all thought of a triumphant Church and a converted world at the end of the dispensation. Yet the Church shall be triumphant; of that there should be no question. For our Lord Jesus has solemnly declared, “Upon this Rock (Christ as Son of the living God) I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” But between the Church of Christ’s building and the vast complex church of man’s devising there is a great difference. The real Church will be triumphantly raptured to glory ere the judgments fall on the great apostate mass of Laodicea.

I do not therefore attempt to prove by argu- ment that the seven letters give us an outline of the Church’s course from apostolic days to the closing up of the present age. This has been so well done by others that it would be on my part a work of supererogation to try to make it any more convincing.1 I only desire in these necessarily brief pages to refresh the memory of my reader by pointing out how aptly those letters fit the history.

Ephesus then, from this view-point, presents the Church in apostolic days-an unworldly, called-out company who labored earnestly and well in making known the riches of grace, and who walked apart from iniquity; unable to bear those who were evil, as indeed these in turn could not endure the company of God’s redeemed, for we read elsewhere, “Of the rest durst no man join himself to them.” In those days of primitive simplicity men were tried by the testimony they brought, and if they spoke not according to the doctrine of Christ were rejected as “liars”-a “short and ugly word” that aptly designates many profane hucksterers of the Word of God to-day.

But the picture has its shadows too, for even during the very lifetime of the apostolic band declension began: the Church left her first love, and a somewhat mysterious form of evil, the “deeds of the Nicolaitanes,” came in, though largely against the desire of the mass, for Ephesus is commended because of hatred to this unholy thing. Leaving their first love was losing the sense of Christ’s presence: occupation with work, with service, took the place of heart-occupation with Himself. No sect of the Nicolaitanes is known, though some have tried to link the name with the reputed followers of an apostate Nicholas, traditionally held to be one of the seven of the 6th of Acts, who were set apart to serve tables. He is supposed to have taught his disciples that the indulgence of licentious practices was not inconsistent with the grace of God. This, however, is very uncertain and largely conjectural. They seem to be right who consider “NicolaitanQs” to be an untranslated Greek word, properly rendered “rulers of the people.” In that case Diotrephes of 3 John would be a typical Nicolaitane, who has had many successors. It would be the divine condemnation of the clerical sytem. Not yet had this system become an accepted doctrine, but the deeds manifested the spirit behind it. Crystallization into an accredited dogma came later (Revelation 2:15).

The second period followed apace, as set forth in the letter to Smyrna. It depicts, as by a few master-strokes, the tragedy of the Pagan persecutions in their efforts to crush Christianity beneath the iron heel of the Roman emperors, from Domitian to Diocletian. Nero’s persecution was local rather than general, but the monster who succeeded him set in motion a world-wide effort to destroy the Church of Christ. Historians count ten general persecutions, which are connected with ten main edicts of the emperors. The last under Diocletian went on for ten years, ceasing only with the death of the incapacitated tyrant. “Ye shall have tribulation ten days” seems to hint at this. But a suffering Church is more likely to be rich in faith than a Church fawned upon by the world; though in deepest poverty the Church in the Smyrna age was “rich,” and prospered, for as Augustine later said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Those dark days were days of Christian devotion and heroism unparalleled save in similar times of suffering and danger. And yet the picture is not altogether bright, for the clear gospel of grace was largely obscured by the legal teaching of “those who said they were Jews and were not.” Such are a synagogue of Satan. Judaism was a divine institution, Christianity is a divine revelation. But the strange mixture of Judaism with Christianity is of Satan. It is a corruption and a counterfeit; and “the corruption of the best thing is the worst of corruptions.”

Pergamos followed this, and gives us the period of the Church’s relief from persecution and her subsequent union with the world. It is the era of Constantine the Great and his successors, when the Church became the pet of the emperors (save for a brief period under Julian the Apostate), and Church and State were linked in an unholy alliance. Thus the Church sat at ease where Satan had his throne, clung to this for centuries, until the world itself wearied of her, and wrenched her from her place of power. He who is familiar with Church history can scarcely read the Perga- mos letter without the vast pageant of the fourth century passing before the eye of his mind. The death of Diocletian; the temporary triumph of Maxentius; the Gallic legions hastening eastward led by Constantine; the famous vision of the fiery cross; the “in hoc signo vinces” portent; the Christians coming forth into the glare of publicity from the dens, caves and catacombs which had been their hiding places for so long; the bishops summoned to the general’s august presence; his endorsement of the new doctrine and intellectual conversion; the cross-led army driving all before it; the overthrow of Maxentius; Constantine hailed as Emperor of the world; proclaimed head of the church and pontifex maximus (the title of the head of the heathen hierarchy) ; the bishops seated among princes; the Church’s mourning over, her eyes dazzled by the unaccustomed luxury and splendor, basking in the imperial favor! Then the Arian controversy; Christ’s true deity denied, but maintained at the council of Nicea where despite tremendous pressure the Church “held fast His Name, refusing to deny His faith.” Of Antipas personally we know nothing, but we see in his very name (which means “against all”) the trumpet-note of Athanasius who, when a later Arian emperor sought to persuade him to endorse the hated Unitarian heresy by crying, “All the world is against you,” in holy dignity exclaimed, “Then I am against all the world.”

The Balaam doctrine too was openly advocated by many in those days, and since-urging the mingling of clean and unclean, the unequal yoke of the Church and world, a spiritual marriage, which “Pergamos” seems to imply; while Nicolai-tanism, or clerisy, had now become a full-blown doctrine, and the distinction between clergy and laity was at last complete. The Pergamos letter is a synoptic description of the conditions prevailing from the fourth to the seventh centuries.

And Thyatira followed as the natural result. Things were going down-hill with fearful rapidity. Yet the church of the middle ages was rich in works of mercy and abounded in “charity.” Her monasteries and hostelries dotted the lands and kept open house for the sick and distressed. But doctrinally she had deteriorated tremendously, and the Papal system was fully organized, becoming a church within the Church, to which all had to bow. It was the woman Jezebel teaching and leading the servants of God astray. As the heathen princess of old foisted her idolatry on Israel, so this false paganistic thing crowded out the Christianity of Christ and superseded it by a system unspeakably evil and inherently corrupt.

At the Reformation of the sixteenth century she was “given space to repent, but she repented not,” as the decrees of the Council of Trent bear witness. She spurned the light shining from the newly-recovered Scriptures and continued in her idolatrous course. For “her children” there is naught but death, though grace ever has discerned even in Rome a remnant having not known the depths of Satan, whom a gracious Lord owns as His and commands to cling to what they have till He shall come. It is the first intimation that declension has gone so far that His return is now the only hope.

For Sardis, though it speak of Protestantism and its great State churches, is not a true recovery. They had received a deposit of truth at the Reformation, which became crystallized into creeds and confessions but did not quicken the mass. So of the great Protestant bodies it can be said, “Thou hast a name that thou livest and art dead,” for churchmanship has largely been substituted for new birth, and orthodoxy for conversion to God. Yet there are a few with garments undefiled who know the Lord and love His truth, and who are exhorted to watch for His coming again!

Philadelphia speaks of the great revival period of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, assuming different forms in different places, but in all characterized by reality, by brotherly love, by clinging to Christ’s Word and honoring His Name who is the Holy and the True. They who take such ground will never be popular with the world or the world’s churches, but they will be content to know that God approves, and that the Lord Himself has opened for them a door of service which none on earth or anywhere else can shut. They wait in patience for the Morning Star-the Bridegroom’s symbolic title.

Laodicea closes the series. It is the solemn arraignment of latitudinarian Christianity with its pride and folly, marked by impudent self-conceit and utter indifference to Christ. It glories in its breadth and culture, its refinements of thought, and its refusal of ancient formulas. It congratulates itself on its wealth and following, while, in His sight who stands knocking outside, it is “poor and wretched and blind and naked.” All the church machinery can go on without His presence, and without any sense of His absence.

And this is the last state of the professing body on earth. When things are in this condition, the Lord Himself will come, and will spew out of His mouth that which is so distasteful and disgusting to Him. “After this,” says John, “I looked, and behold, a door was opened in heaven.” As he is caught up through that open door he beholds surrounding the throne in glory the true Church seated in triumph, as symbolized in the twenty-four elders.

Laodicea is the closing period of the Church’s history, and who can doubt that we have now reached the very time depicted? It behooves us to act as men who wait for their Lord, knowing that His coming cannot be much longer delayed.

We have thus glanced at various scriptures having to do with the evidences in the professing church of the Lord’s near return. We must now look at some movements among the nations which point unquestionably to the same thing.

1 The inquiring reader is referred to “The Prophetic History of the Church,” by F. W. Grant, 35 cts. Same publishers.

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Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 2 Peter 3". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. 1914.